Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash has been inundated with great reviews and film festivals awards and nominations but why is unbeknownst to me.
Whiplash was formerly an 18 minute short film, but upon winning the Short Film Jury Award for U.S. Fiction at Sundance last year it was extended to a feature. It tells the story of Andrew Neiman, a 19 year old jazz drummer who attends the Shaffer Conservatory, and his destructive desire to be “one of the greats”. His wishes are on their way to being granted when Terence Fletcher, the infamous conductor of the Conservatory’s jazz band, asks him to join as an alternative drummer. The film proceeds to document Fletcher’s sadistic tendencies when aiming to get the best from his band and Neiman’s masochistic tendencies when aiming to get the best from himself.
I found the film a nightmare to watch. One of the primary reasons for this was the unrelenting use of close ups. Sweat dripping from pores and spit flying from mouths loses its effect when it’s all you see for over 100 minutes. This was all in the name of making a realistic film about music rather than a polished sparkling musical, and credit where credit is due, I didn’t think this was Glee for one minute. Glee grates because of its happy clappyness, Whiplash grates because of its… whatever the opposite of happy clappyness is.
The two lead characters are unbearable and given that the film focuses entirely on them, there is no escape. Whilst audience members were laughing at Terence Fletcher’s trains of abuse, I was cringing at how every insult had to be flavoured with sexism and homophobia. People might compare J. K. Simmons’ character to Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It but the character lacks the charisma and he the watchability to pull it off like Peter Capaldi. Miles Teller was good but his character was just as loathsome: there is a scene in which he is asked if he has any friends and he answers no, and I can completely understand why. The film offers no refuge from these irritating characters apart from one female character that comes along – in the form of a girlfriend – but she’s quickly discarded. On that note, you’d hope that the Shaffer Conservatory’s jazz band wouldn’t be all male as displayed in the film. The macho competition becomes tiresome and when the film finishes with mutual understanding rather than a stand off, it feels something of an anticlimax.
If you’ve ever wanted to get up close and personal with aggressive men and jazz drumming, Whiplash is the film for you.