A throwback to art school dramas like Fame (1980), without the spontaneous singing and dancing in the streets, Whiplash takes place in the musty wood paneled halls of a music conservatory where one notorious teacher is determined to bring out or break out the best in his music class. But are his extreme methods crossing the line between inspiration and psychological abuse?

Essentially a two person drama focused on a mentor protégé relationship, we follow Andrew (Miles Teller), a first year jazz drumming student, as he tries to impress and win the admiration of the most demanding and merciless music teacher in the country. 

Unlike the apathetic, languid Mason in Boyhood, this intense coming-of-age tale takes its subject on a harrowing journey in pursuit of perfection and what it takes to be great at something, taking the adage that greatness is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, or in this case blood sweat and tears, to extreme levels.

The volatile Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) gets results because he’s a brutal disciplinarian who accepts no excuses and runs his jazz orchestra class like a boot camp, kicking anyone not up to his standards out without a moment’s hesitation. He is the Chef Ramsey (Hell’s Kitchen) of music school instructors played brilliantly by J.K. Simmons, known for his role as obnoxious newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-man movies.

Andrew is in for a rude awakening when he first arrives in Mr. Fletcher’s class. However, his desire and stubborn determination to be the best is so strong that he will not be so easily discouraged from his goal, including having a cymbal thrown at him, relationship demands or well-meaning parental advice. 

Mr. Fletcher believes that “there are no two words more harmful than ‘Good job’” which indicates his philosophy that teachers/mentors should always encourage their students to continue to strive for better work and not to settle for anything less than their highest potential. The danger is that some people can be pushed too far and will not be able to live up to the instructor’s high expectations which may result in depression and suicide.

Whatever your opinion about nurturing talent or teaching techniques, this film is an eye opening wake-up call and a must-see for anyone wishing a career in the arts. The message is an important one. How much would we sacrifice and push ourselves to achieve our dreams? 

Visually, Whiplash lives up to its title with rapid fire close up snapshots of instruments, sheet notes and anguished concentrated faces edited together with heart pounding orchestra Jazz music that is absolutely riveting and mesmerizing.

Music and Jazz lovers will connect with the film’s hard hitting passionate love for the art form and pursuit of excellence. Everyone else will definitely get an education they won’t soon forget and be entertained at the same time. 

The performances are first rate especially that of J.K. Simmons as the instructor, who has been winning accolades and awards at every award show. His Oscar nominated performance is the surest bet to win this year for Best Supporting Actor award. 

You may need to check your ego for injuries after seeing this exceptionally brave and daring drama that will leave you transfixed and shell shocked. 


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