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Whiplash (2014)


J.K. Simmons won an Oscar for best-supporting actor in Whiplash. The film also picked up an Oscar for editing and sound mixing. Damien Chazelle wrote and directed the film several years before he did the same with La La Land. Miles Teller plays Andrew, a drummer in an elite music school. J.K. Simmons is Fletcher, a demanding perfectionist jazz instructor and the gatekeeper to the school’s best performance ensemble.

I sometimes struggle with a film filled with evil characters. Fletcher’s quest to find the next great (insert name of famous jazz musician that I am not familiar with) is relentless and even results in suicide. His ‘genius’ and tenure protect him from ending up on the street for most of the film. People abusing their positions of power elicit emotional responses from me. Horrible Bosses was almost unwatchable as I saw parallels to what I have seen in my career. In Whiplash it is set in a school where the students should have some protection, but they do not.

I assume that elite music colleges are cutthroat. There are only so many first-chair positions in orchestras or money-making touring jazz ensembles. The pointy end of the music pyramid gets sharper the further you progress. This level of competition for diminishing opportunities makes the competitors highly vulnerable to the gatekeepers they must work with. The competitors must also be driven by an all-consuming passion. You cannot be a casual musician in a school like this, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything in your life for a chance that it may work out. This film captures all of that perfectly.

I wanted to see Fletcher be taken out of his position and forced to pay for his crimes. I wanted to see Andrew walk away and salvage his life. The film’s ending is a bit ambiguous, has Andrew won the approval of Fletcher? I felt sad for Andrew as he falls back into trying to please the unpleasable. The movie got an emotional response from me, mostly on Fletcher’s evil methods, and I think it will get one from you. This is not an easy film to watch but, it is enjoyable and deserves your time.

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