Andrew (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory of Music. When he’s invited to join the Studio Band, the school’s competitive jazz band, as an alternative drummer by conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Andrew quickly learns that Fletcher is an emotionally-abusive mentor who is out to ruin his life and make him a better musician at the same time.
Whiplash is one of those movies that did really well at smaller film festivals but hasn’t been heard of by mainstream audiences, which is kind of disappointing when you realize how good it is. Though it’s not a film with a particularly deep premise, the relationship between Miles Teller’s budding musician and J.K. Simmons’s teacher is one every student (especially those in performing arts) can relate to.
You see, Simmons’s character, Fletcher, is written as an extreme in order to drive a point about how good teachers push their students to be the greatest versions of themselves. Though Fletcher uses abusive methods (emotional and occasionally physical), the intent behind those methods is respectable. He wants to see his students succeed instead of settle for the “good enough”—a problem that our society’s current attitude toward education and job performance continues to solidify. That’s why Fletcher is so hard on Andrew, and it’s the reason why Andrew both hates and admires Fletcher.
One of the reasons why this movie is so good is because Teller and Simmons really bring out the intensity with their characters. Teller is magnificent as the awkward yet ambitious Andrew, and this movie showcases his rising talent. Though he appeared out of nowhere in the last two years (That Awkward Moment, 21 & Over, Divergent, and the Fantastic Four reboot), now he’s like the second coming of Shia LaBeouf—meaning he’s a great actor, but he’s already putting his foot in his mouth with the media. Then, there’s Simmons…
Simmons has been around for decades, putting in solid “character actor” work in indie and blockbuster hits. You may better know him as the dad from Juno, J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi Spider-man trilogy, or the Farmers Insurance commercials. Simmons is amazing in this movie. As Fletcher, he’s frightening, foul-mouthed, and totally insane, yet he also has a soft side that we see for a brief moment. It’s an unforgettable performance, which is why he’s been nominated for a Golden Globe (and won), a SAG (and won), and an Academy Award (which I have no doubt he’ll win). He deserves all the awards.
Other than mentioning how awesome the jazz music is in the movie (which sounds even better in the theater setting) or how well the camera pans and zooms further drive the tension you can already feel between Teller and Simmons’s characters, I can’t think of anything else to say about Whiplash. It’s just damn good.
Overall, Whiplash is an intense look into the relationship between a young musician and his mentor with great music and memorable performances from both of its lead actors. J.K. Simmons in particular put in what may be the greatest performance of his already long and impressive career as foul-mouthed, abusive music conductor Terrence Fletcher, which is why he’s nominated for (and keeps winning) awards for Best Supporting Actor. In fact, I’d even say it’s one of those performances that will make it hard for me to watch him in other movies without thinking about how insane he was in this movie. GIVE J.K. SIMMONS ALL THE AWARDS FOREVER.
For my radio review of Whiplash on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 27:23 mark).