Andrew (Miles Teller) studies at the conservatory to be a drummer. A jazz drummer, to be exact. When the renowned professor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is looking for a new drummer for his school jazz band, Andrew does everything he can to get the coveted spot – and succeeds. But Fletcher’s teaching methods are built on abuse – only the ones with star potential will make it through. And Andrew is convinced that that’s him.
Whiplash is a tense, well-made and exciting film with a completely fucked-up message. The entire film I was hoping that it would end in exactly the opposite way than it did – and that ending makes me hesitant to really applaud the otherwise excellent film.
I had two main issues with the film. One is quickly summarized: there were practically no women in the film at all. As if women aren’t jazz musicians or other people worth having in your film. The other was that the film is yet another entry into the long list of films where the asshole human being with his more than questionable didactic methods is proven right, that it paid off to abuse students through their curricula because in the end, they turn out to be great.
That was especially frustrating because I thought for a very long time that Whiplash would finally be the film that shows how incompetent these abusive teachers actually are. How teaching can’t really happen without a healthy relationship between teacher and student. How destructive and unhelpful it is to completely ruin people’s self esteem, to continuously degrade them and to kick them while they’re lying down. How the myth of “the ones with the real talent will do whatever it takes to succeed and will be made stronger by the abuse they suffer” (as if the ability to withstand abuse is somehow tied to your talent) entirely ignores all the talented people who are broken by these methods and discarded.
But disregarding that (and the pedagogy student inside of me who was crying), the film was really, really good. Chazelle really knows how to rack up the tension – so much so that I caught myself holding my breath more than once. And that even though I usually don’t really care for drums and find drumming quickly annoying – not so in this case. The music was cool.
And of course, the performances. J.K. Simmons is already getting nominated left and right – and deservedly so. He was awesome (he usually is, but it’s nice that we get him in a flashy role for once). Miles Teller was also really good and manages to hold his own without problem. Together they make a very special and very impressive team and the heart of the film.