This boy plays drums. He plays them well. His tutor is an asshole. He is driven to spill blood for the cause of perfecting his performance.
In the press screening, the credits were greeted with whoops and cheers. This never happens. It was the sort of baying reserved for feeding time at the zoo. Post-screening conversations were littered with glowing adjectives. Critics were positively foaming at the mouth. A look at metacritic.com will show this to be wider spread than those gathered at Leicester Sq’s Odeon. Whiplash averages at a score of 87/100. Not bad going. It also walked away with both the Grand Jury and he Audience awards at this year’s Sundance film festival.
In that case, why do I find myself raising my hand to usher in measure and restraint? I’ll explain why.
The abuse is unrealistic, metaphorically or otherwise. There is a lack of authenticity in the portrayal of a jazz band conductor. He doesn’t include the rhythm section, except to chastise them. He doesn’t count them in. The drum score too, from what could be seen, wasn’t in an accurate format.
The positives are the zingers flying out of the mouth of guru, Fletcher, (J.K. Simmons). It is a potty mouthed performance that elicits plenty of mirth. It also taps into the post-millennial Simon Cowell obsession with curt, crude and acerbic criticism/dismissal. It is as though we are conditioned to accept that the bluntest delivery is the most motivating of all. Harsh but fair has been ditched in favour of harsh for harshness sake.
Plot-wise, the story becomes a struggle between two wills in a similar way as screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, Rush, The Queen) so ably demonstrates with his projects. In the process of painting this picture, however, one important ingredient is lost – the passion for music itself. At no point do you get the impression that Andrew (Miles Teller) is a lover of music. Instead, you just get the notion that he’s a socially inept perfectionist who wants to achieve status and status alone.
In the column marked ‘good’, the cinematography elicits a nice autumnal hue. In fact, it is not too different from what Jonathan Demme achieved with his Neil Young concert film, ‘Heart of Gold’. The close-ups of cymbals, snares, reeds and even s(c)ores, add a visceral intimacy that is effective and adrenaline-inducing.
If you’re a fan of studies into the pursuit of perfectionism with a few darkly comic laughs along the way, then this could be the film for you. If you’re passionate about music and/or a musician, then you might be left feeling that this is about as hollow as a bass drum.
Follow Greg Wetherall on Twitter: @gregwetherall