‘Whiplash’ review: A film that is both difficult and immensely entertaining

Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Reiser
Rating: *1/2

What it’s about: Andrew Neyman (Teller) is socially awkward. He self-admittedly has no friends with only his father as a constant source of support.

His time at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music is divided between dorm and studio sessions. He’s spotted and picked by Terence Fletcher, a hard conductor with a cruel streak. Over several sessions, he abuses, humiliates and tears down the efforts of his wards and most vocally, Andrew, bears the brunt of his madness (or method, call it what you will). Convinced that pleasing Fletcher is his only way to greatness, Neyman pushes away family and girlfriend, but will it take him any closer to his goal?

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What’s hot: You’re going to be seeing a lot of Miles Teller, let me tell you that. The young actor, last noticed in college capers like Project X and 21 & Over and dramas like The Spectacular Now, Divergent and Two Night Stand, breaks through with a stellar turn in Whiplash. And mark my words, the boy isn’t going to stop there. Next month, he’ll be seen in Insurgent (the second installment of the Divergent series). And much, much later in the rebooted Fantastic Four movie, with a sequel already greenlit for 2017. This young star excels in roles he’s picked so far. Andrew, by that measure, marks a departure from his happy-go-lucky parts and sees him take on serious roles that show off his histrionic range.

But that being said, the true star of this piece is undoubtedly JK Simmons. He took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this film. As the feared Fletcher, he is unpredictable — able to switch between the smoothest talking person you know to a jerk with a double-edged flaming sword for a tongue. Throughout the movie, he steals every scene he’s in, thanks to the exaggerated close-ups, spit and venom flying in every direction. Each word articulated sears and hurts.

What’s not: It isn’t clear what Chazelle is trying to achieve here. The film wavers in several spots – never explaining to you why the only connection Andrew makes apart from Fletcher, of course, is a girl who works behind the counter at a local theatre. What does this girl do in her spare time? Andrew does nothing else apart from going to the studio. Why can’t he find time for his girlfriend. You actually cheer when she dumps his sorry a** for the excuse he gives for breaking up with her, why is the drummer more important to Fletcher than the rest of his band?

Moreover, this is a film that tells you practice makes perfect. Can you add abuse and humiliation to that list. No good teacher is expected to behave with a student in that manner, no matter how great or effective he is.

What to do: This is a decidedly difficult film to sit through, but it is immensely entertaining. You don’t have to be a musician to appreciate it; it’s universal in the manner it appeals to or disgusts you. That a film with only two major characters is able to evoke sharp yet pointed reactions from you over the span of a couple of hours is a huge ask these days, and Whiplash gets the job done superbly well.