Sometimes, what movie The Wife and I end up seeing depends on circumstances. The weekend before Christmas, I’m looking at the movies playing at The Spectrum Theatre in Albany that were departing on Christmas Eve, and the one that got the most critical buzz was Whiplash. Specifically, J.K. Simmons, who I know from the Tobey Maguire movie version of Spider-Man, as Assistant Chief Pope from the TV show The Closer, and, oddly, from a series of commercials for Farmers Insurance. He’s already won the Best Supporting Actor nod from the New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and is nominated for a Golden Globe, as is the movie itself.
Whiplash stars Miles Teller, who I remember favorably from The Spectacular Now in 2013. Here he plays Andrew Neiman, a 19-year-old jazz drummer, who wants to next Buddy Rich. He is accepted into the the legendary New York City music school, the Shaffer Conservatory. Andrew successfully auditions to become the new drum alternate for notorious Shaffer conductor Terence Fletcher (Simmons).
Then the “fun” begins. While practicing the Hank Levy song “Whiplash”, Fletcher makes Andrew’s life difficult, not that he has singled him out. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
The movie costars Melissa Benoist (Marley from the TV show Glee) as Andrew’s neglected girlfriend and Paul Reiser (TV’s Mad about You) as his supportive dad. The film was written and directed by Damien Chazelle, who I had never heard of.
We watched a pair of intense performances. At the point about 2/3s of the way through, the movie seemed to let up a bit, but the drama returns and runs to the end. This is a movie less about jazz than the application of perfection that Fletcher was apparently seeking; I’ve seen it, and you have too in other endeavors. In fact, the Wife and I found several examples of, “Boy, do I know THAT feeling.” The music is quite good, but it is secondary to the narrative.
When I was in high school, we had some music competitions. Someone said that drum solos are boring, unless they’re not. Whiplash is an inspired drum solo.