whiplashWould Charlie Parker have been Bird if a drummer hadn’t hurled a cymbal at him, motivating Parker to practice harder, get better and become one of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century. What motivates a great artist? Can an average artist be pushed past his limits to become something greater? All of these questions are at the core of WHIPLASH. Miles Teller is a 19-year-old drum prodigy attending Shaffer Conservatory, the best music school in the country. He is selected, seemingly by chance to join the school’s top level Jazz band. The director of that band is J.K. Simmons, a martinet of a teacher who curses, slaps, insults and throws things at his students. Teller is obsessed with becoming the Charlie Parker of the drums (without the heroin). He pushes himself to please Simmons, but really, that is impossible. Simmons is brutal, demanding and unforgiving. Teller’s father (Paul Reiser) appears to be supportive, but even that seems to come undone at a dinner party where he asks Teller if he wants to be dead at 34. Teller’s response is telling.. he’d rather be a dead legend, than a live nobody. So it seems he has found his perfect teacher in Simmons. But how far can he be pushed before he simply breaks. What is he willing to give up to live his dream. Does he want to be great or simply be ok. There is one resonating scene in which Simmons tells him that the words “good job” are the two worst words in the english language because they invite mediocrity. This is an absolutely fantastic film. Teller is an astounding young actor. Simmons has been around for years playing mostly the genial dad (JUNO) or the bigger than life, yet lovable bully (SPIDER-MAN). He is the actor’s character actor. But it is wonderful to see him get a chance to step into a lead role and own it so wonderfully. The script and direction by Damien Chazzelle are tight and to the point. No wasted words or shots. Like a great jazz composition, it washes over you and digs into your soul. I don’t know whether Teller and Simmons played instruments before this film or learned for it. It doesn’t matter. They both are simply amazing, award caliber performances. WHIPLASH deserves all the praise it gets and then some. This deserves several awards, which sadly, it probably won’t win. — Alan Yudman


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