Movie Review: Whiplash

We like a Friday night DVD, the husband and I. But we have one rule. We give our movie ten minutes to prove itself. If it hasn't grabbed us by 9 minutes and 55 seconds, we turn it off, no regrets.

The ten minute rule has been in operation for several years now - probably since we signed up for our DVD rental subscription with Quickflix, which is great, I have to say. We get the movie they send us, we give it 10 minutes to try it out and if we don't like it, we send it back the following day and get the next one on the list. 

While it's true to say that we don't always enjoy the same genre of movie (him: superheroes, me: chickflicks) we both really, really like an edge-of-your-seat thriller, even if I have to leave the room during the last fight scene because I can't watch the violent bits. (I figure I know how it's going to turn out. Liam Neeson will win, the baddies will be vanquished and they'll land the plane or the boat or the submarine or the spaceship or whatever. Oh, and the love interest will get a kiss, and no one will suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. Ever.)

So then Whiplash arrived. It's a recent film about a kid who wants to be a jazz drummer. The best jazz drummer in the world, actually. And he wants it really, really badly. So badly, in fact, that he's prepared to be unpopular and have no friends or girlfriend because 'they get in the way'. But we like him, because he's got a cute face and he's kind of vulnerable, and because he's so, so passionate about his dream.

We put the DVD in the machine and settled back. I was mostly expecting to enjoy the music. The husband wanted to see whether the Best Actor nomination for JK Simmons was warranted. What we didn't count on was being literally on the edge of our seats most of the entire movie. The ten minute mark went by without us even asking the question, "So, what do you think?" Seriously, it was as tense as Taken, as mysterious as Man on a Ledge, as suspenseful as anything Jason Bourne ever did. (Sorry, couldn't think of an action thriller starting with S off the top of my head.)

The story basically goes like this: Andrew, the wanna-be worlds-greatest-drummer can't fulfill his dreams of being picked for big gigs unless he can play with his music school's 'Studio Band', which is run by a musician/teacher (played by JK Simmons) who is both a genius and a tyrant. He runs band practice like boot camp and fires musicians for the smallest things. He's an exacting perfectionist who wants only the best, and he'll throw a chair at a musician to make it happen. Basically, he's a bully.

Running through the film is a story about jazz musician Charlie Parker, who 'only became great' because Joe Jones threw a cymbal at him in a rehearsal. Parker was so humiliated that he practiced crazy madly for an entire year, came back in 12 months and blew the world away with his solo.

The question is: will JK Simmons' tactics bear fruit? Will his attitude towards Andrew actually help him be a better drummer and fulfil his potential, just like Charlie Parker did? Or, alternatively, is he just a bully who will squash whatever talent he sees around him? And can Andrew fight his way through and fulfil his dream?

There were times that my husband couldn't watch this film because the tension was so great. We were both covering our eyes, not wanting to look. And we both said to each other, at least twice, "Man, we didn't see that coming." 

The ending was a cliffhanger, right up until the last two minutes. (It was a little bit like what I imagine some 20 overs cricket matches might be like, if the games were close, and if I bothered to watch them. But it was better, of course, because, jazz.)

And seriously, the music in this film was tight. Oh, I love big band music SO much I could burst. I'll admit that I'm not that big on drum solos (and there were quite a few drum solos, as you would expect) but I treated them just like the car chases in a Liam Neeson flick and did a few extra rows of my knitting while they happened. All the other music, though, especially the double bass lick in the last set piece, was astounding and incredible and smooth. 

Personally, I think JK Simmons' character was a bully. (And he deserved the Oscar, FYI.)  But, at the same time, the character of Andrew probably ended up being a better drummer because of the hardships he had to overcome. Although I'm thinking that in 10 years, he might just have developed a little bit of PTSD, not to mention have a string of very failed and flawed relationships. But that's a subject for another movie entirely. 

Also, interestingly, the movie was written and directed by a guy who used to be a jazz drummer. When asked, in the Q&A session in the Special Features, why he went from being a jazz drummer to being a film producer, he said, "Um, because of what happened in the movie." So I guess it was based on a true story. 

Whiplash: 4 1/2 stars from me. I loved it. 

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