Friday, April 10, 2015

A boy and his drums…


I think it’s safe to say that ‘Whiplash’ was that little film that could this year, that one film that came out of nowhere, that small indie that everyone fell in love with and came up from obscurity to become a legit Oscar contender, even walking away with three Oscar wins.  There’s almost always one every year, but I don’t think anyone would have called this one a year ago.  No, a film about an angry teacher and an overzealous drum student doesn’t scream Oscar.

In fact, when I first heard of the film all I could think of was ‘Drumline’…and I scoffed.

But, ‘Whiplash’ proved to be more than that.



Now, I’m going to start this by saying that I really, really liked this movie and many aspects of it.  Its spitfire editing is remarkably inspired and sends the film spiraling in all sorts of directions in the best possible ways.  Miles Teller is a revelation of desperate aspirations, practically bleeding all over every frame, even learning to play the drums for the role and doing so with such violent passion.  The soundscapes are delicately created, blistering in the eardrums and creating such texture in every scene.  Yes, J.K. Simmons seethes all over the place, and that final scene is beyond words incredible.

BUT, I take issue with a certain aspect of the film, and because of that I can’t call this perfect.

It’s all kind of one-note.

That note is played to the hilt and delivers with striking intensity, but layers that the film flirts with exposing it never really delves into completely.  Simmons, while a monster of a performer here, has such a clichéd character to work with, with no actual depth, that he almost blocks the film’s storytelling ability because he becomes this constant reminder that the means to the end is so…flat.  The formula here is extremely generic, leaving a lot to be desired in exploration of themes and characters, because everyone portrayed here is a rather generic variation of the same characters we see in all of these kinds of films; empty, one-note incarnations of what is perceived to be ‘drive’, ‘passion’ and ‘aspiration’.

I know what most of you are thinking right now...


I'm sorry.

But hear me out, because I'm about to start saying some nice things!

You see, this is where ‘Whiplash’ finds its saving grace, for as I detailed out in one of the above paragraphs, so many of the film’s assets create a real sense of atmosphere here.  It’s a generic story told in a very ‘non-traditional’ way, and that helps, a lot.  The editing, the blistering performances, the almost horror-like cinematography, the way that Damien Chazelle pulls in every frame to dynamic force; crashing into the audience as it were…all of these aspects give ‘Whiplash’ an edge that it almost doesn’t deserve and thus causes the film to appear to be more that it is.

I’ve talked a bit before about how it’s not the story you tell but the way you tell it that matters, and ‘Whiplash’ is proof of that.  I still don’t like the character of Fletcher much, for I find him almost offensively one-note, and I found the whole ‘crying over a student’ scene to be extremely forced and ill-fitted to the film, but Teller anchors the film with a tremendously layered performance that finds such depth in Andrew, his dreams, goals and flaws.

When he hugs his father and then turns around…just…UGH!



So, in closing; I like ‘Whiplash’ a lot.  It’s not a masterpiece, but it can appear as one thanks to some astonishingly composed dressing, but it doesn’t need to be a masterpiece, for its masterfully told; and sometimes that’s more than enough.

B+

16 comments:

  1. Oooh shots fired! :D I disagree about the characters being carbon copies of others and the film following the formula - my jaw hit the floor when that accident happened and yet he still kept going. I thought they did give Fletcher depth - the whole thing with his formed student killing himself, the elegance of his little jazz club performance, his joy in the ending of the movie. I would award Norton over Simmons but he was outstanding.

    Glad you didn't hate it! :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I certainly didn't hate this, at all. I really liked it! And I did love the accident scene because, at that moment, I was literally thinking "something has to happen" and it did, and I was happy about that!

      Delete
  2. I've been waiting for your Whiplash review! Nice write up, I disagree about Fletcher. I didn't feel he was one note at all. I like all the points Sati made in her above comment, and I loved the scene where he's talking sweetly to that little girl one minute, then walks in the room and says "wake up, cocksuckers!" the next.

    I have to laugh about the Drumline comment because that's what my husband said to me when I told him I wanted to see this. He ended up loving it too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just never felt depth. He felt like a caricature, which made for a really great cinematic villain of sorts, but not much more.

      Delete
  3. THANK YOU!

    I really enjoyed Whiplash in the moment, but it became problematic for me afterwards. It's basically the same story beats over and over, and the characters are either one-note or types we've seen before. The fantastically accomplished, committed performances and the sensational editing cover for it a lot, but this is one case of "style over substance" that had me questioning whether it was worth it afterwards - even though I like it. It's a one-note film, but what it does with that one note is pretty damn good.

    I kinda wish that some professional critic's review of this was just: "Good job."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, right...this one kind of needed a little 'Good Job' to bring it down to earth a bit. It's very good, and it's certainly a frantic joy to watch, but reflecting on this only brings to the surface it's lack of depth.

      Delete
  4. I've been looking forward to this review, and you did beautiful work, as per usual. :-) The story and characters didn't feel one note to me. Not much was revealed, but the characters didn't feel flat. I actually had a sense of there being a rich untold story just under the surface.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also felt that there was something below the surface...I just wish it came to the surface and reared its head at least a little (or a little more convincingly).

      Delete
  5. I almost rented this film but chose another...oh well. I actually am concerned about exactly what you write here just from what I have seen and heard but I will watch this film and see if I agree...or not:) I do like the actor J.K. Simmons even in those commercials:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love Simmons as an actor and am very happy for him to have had this great career boost and to have bagged an Oscar as well, since his steady and consistent work deserves it. I hope you get to see this one soon.

      Delete
  6. That poster at the top is fantastic. Hopefully, I'll get to watch this soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Despite me personal issues with the film, it's one I'd still wholly recommend to pretty much everyone.

      Delete
  7. I somewhat agree about it being one-note and generic, but I bought Fletcher's character, which could be due largely to Simmons' dedicated performance. Like you said, the way the story's presented really helps the film. Thanks to the editing, it just MOVES, and that brilliant ending sneaks up on you. I'm somewhere between a weak A and an A-.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does move so well, which is why I still really liked this and give it a high grade (and I was on the verge of going A- here, to be honest), but I can't buy Fletcher, at all, despite the fact that Simmons was ON FIRE.

      Delete
  8. Great review! I just watched a couple of weeks ago, and, while I did enjoy it, I agree that story is quite dull. I mean, how many times can one guy dramatically swing sticks to attempt to gain someone's affection?!?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup, dull story told with rich energy, which makes it less dull on the intake.

      Delete