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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Whiplash Review: Drummed down.

 Before we get started... lemmie set the mood.

Whiplash is a movie I loved and hated at the exact same time. Parts of it are horrifying and suspenseful with just dialogue alone. Parts of it are so clunky and pointless that I skipped entire scenes. I felt like I lost nothing, with a good script that shouldn't be possible.

Whenever the film is about drumming, or showing Miles Teller drumming, or if J.K. Simmons is on camera, the movie is on literal fire. But that feels like less than half of the whole thing. I'm sure if I looked more closely it would actually be the vast majority of the film. But the parts of Andrew's life outside of his sociopathic teacher's artistic dungeon are so amateurish in comparison, that they kill the film's roaring momentum every single time.

Let's start with the "girlfriend"character. I don't remember her name, but Whiplash doesn't want her to be an actual person, so I'm not too cut up about that. Screw the "manic-pixie-dream-girl" the worst female stock character in film is the "gorgeous-girl-who's-inexplicably-drawn-to-plain-uninteresting- male-lead-because-there-ain't-no-time-for-a-three-dimensional-love-interest-with-agency." That sounds petty and angry. Maybe that's because it is.  But never has a movie this good hit my pet peeve cliche so hard. Just... so hard.

He bombs in his bid to ask her out. And she says yes. He is absolutely terrible at conversation and can't stop talking about himself or his obsession at dinner. She laughs at his painful not-jokes and rubs her foot on his. If it were not for her last off screen conversation I'd buy a Tyler Durden-esque fantasy plot twist. She's barely a human being. She should have been cut out of the whole damn thing.

Oh! and there's this bizarre dinner scene at his cousin's house where Andrew wryly sh*ts on his recent division III football win after no one understands what being in Fletcher's jazz band means. Then his uncle, a grown f**king man, asks Andrew if he has any friends. Knowing that he doesn't. Parents and family that hate each other don't say "you're weird and nobody likes you." This guy knows Andrew's mom walked out on him when he was little. It's so spectacularly cruel. Family wouldn't do that! his face.

Get ready for a lot of blood on a lot of drums.

But aside from that, the agony and the ecstasy of Fletcher's homicidal jazz crucible is pure hypnotism. Unlike in the rest of the film, the slightly heightened reality works in it's favor. Fletcher's band members have the look of prisoners. Feigning humanity and outside interests until their warden walks though the door. They stand at attention, absolutely terrified that something they do will grab his.

There aren't a whole lot of actors that could handle Fletcher and Simmons owns every frame of it. His Lee Ermey rants flow naturally. His anger, horrifying. But he can switch it all off in a second. He can be warm and forgiving, again, you believe it all. His warmer side is somehow even more unnerving.

The only band teacher I ever had wasn't a fraction as rug-humpingly insane... but there were several major points of similarity. I have no doubt that Fletcher's real life inspiration didn't fall too far from the tree. Even still, he becomes just a scoach too evil in the end. It's a fun twist in the moment but again... characters in this movie have a tendency to stop doing things that make any kind of sense. That kinda robs it's staying power.

It's like they follow you wherever you go...

That and Andrew doesn't have that much to do, outside of looking amazing playing the drums. Which he does. But Miles Teller is still an unknown talent to me. In that, I'm yet to be convinced he's actually talented. Does Teller play him as a detached cypher because that's the kind of person Fletcher knows he can manipulate the most? Or is he just not that great at filling in the character's blanks left in the script? The kinda thing Chris Pratt is a third degree black belt at. Not being sure if a performance is brilliant or terrible kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it? It's like you can see smoke but you can't find the fire. Acting? Editing? Writing?  Something f**ked up, at any rate.

The fact that Fletcher isn't an unbearable caricature is award worthy. I'm not being glib, Simmons has the supporting character Oscar sown up. I couldn't be happier for him, because getting into that character must have been a special kind of murder. For all my misgivings, you should definitely see Whiplash. Because what it does well, you have never seen before. What it does wrong could easily be fixed by a rewrite. By that, I mean the director, Damien Chazelle, is an arm's length away from greatness. He's so close! Grand Piano was so much fun, and this was so dark and thought provoking. The happy medium between the two could knock me off my feet.

I'll wait for that train as long as it takes.

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