Hurling Of Symbols

Whiplash (2014)
A Review By Ben Hunter
3 Out Of 5 Stars


There are meager circumstantial and too “by the book” like points that I can’t let go.  But my thoroughly stimulated emotions award forgiveness in the end. 


“Yardbird”, also known as the American jazz saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker; is one of the greatest most influential musicians in history.  As a novice on the uprising of his career, he was practicing with the jazz drummer, Jo Jones, another great, and a little further along in his career.  Well, Charlie plays a wrong note one day and Jo hurls a symbol at his head, nearly hurting Charlie.  Startled, yet respectful of Jones’ wisdom in the industry, Charlie takes this to heart … and he starts practicing.  He practices and he practices and he practices.  A year later he performs one of the greatest musical numbers the world has EVER witnessed, thus signifying Parker as one of the most influential musicians in history.

Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) relays this story to Andrew (Miles Teller) as to reveal why Fletcher is such a tough music professor upon which Andrew is one of his students (who received a chair hurled at him).  “Whiplash” is the title of a song on the class playlist.  He pushes Andrew to his limits and the two have a dynamic relationship.  Fletcher feels if all teachers are as apathetic and encouraging towards students instead of pushing them to truly realize their full potential, then we as a society are depriving the world of the next Louis Armstrong and the like.  He finishes with this:
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.’ ” 
So what if Jones hadn’t pelted that symbol at Parker?  Would he have been the talented beloved musician he became to be?  I feel there’s a level of respect that comes with this.  A will to want to demonstrate and convince the mentor that the student is deserving of this goal he or she is working to obtain.  However, there is a line in my opinion.  I certainly do see the other side of the coin in the discussion of helping others realize their true potential. 

Everyone has his or her truth. 

Boy oh boy, Miles Teller, heck of a job buddy!  By that I mean way to go with all the work he put into perfecting the art of the jazz percussion.  Writer/Director Damien Chazelle quickly cut to an overhead shot of Teller during the big climatic finish where Teller gives one of the greatest musical solos I’ve EVER seen.  This half a second (if that), quick cut of Teller giving his all on the drums, put me in awe of this instrument, this genre of music, this actor giving the musical performance of a lifetime, and the beauty of the art of music as well as of film in which this one brings to light.  My emotions came alive while experiencing this story!  This is what film is supposed to do.

I loved the dynamic love/hate relationship between Simmons & Teller.  I feel this film is the perfect vehicle for the two of them to really step out into the households of our communities and to be recognized as just that, household names.  For awhile now the two of them have always been “that guy from” and hopefully now that will change.
Miles Teller & J.K. Simmons blurring the lines of acceptability, hard work, & insanity.  
Even with that said, I’m still waiting for that film for me to personally get on board the bandwagons of these two, maybe more so for Teller than for Simmons.  Teller is the lead here, so the weight is more on his shoulders.  Whiplash was HIGHLY received at The Sundance Film Festival, and Teller gained a lot of positive attention here.  He’s well on his way, hopefully he’ll become a household name.  But to me, I’m still waiting for my The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which pushed me into Rooney Mara’s bandwagon and shut the door behind me solidifying that statement.  Teller’s musical talents were amazing, his acting was incredible, maybe even enough to get me to stand in front of the bandwagon, MAYBE even get inside.  But on acting alone, the door is definitely not shut behind me to make the statement, “I’M ONBOARD!  What film is next?!” 

I think this has something to do with the story itself, a great one, but not a perfect one.  A small handful of circumstantial points and some things felt a little too “textbook” in my opinon.  My emotions take over and you forgive these meager plot points when the credits roll and you’re cheering for our two leads.  But we forget this is an Oscar film, trying to declare itself as THEE best of all the best this year (maybe even ever or for years to come, that’s what “Oscar” means and rightfully so).  With that said, EVERYTHING goes under the microscope!  The B story of the girl, Melissa Benoist, was out of place.  Either focus on her and forget the Dad, or vice versa in my opinion.  It was nice to see Mad About You’s Paul Reiser again.  But I wanted to see better-developed supporting characters with these two.  "Perfectly" woven plot points like loosing the notebook for later events to fall in line, or the title itself used in a surface level manner ... yeah, come on Damien, let's get some good writing done.  

One thing’s for sure, audiences will love our lead, on screen players, and subconsciously feel the edges of their seats as this wonderful cinematic accomplishment crescendos in an amazing climatic achievement!

They will engage, they will ambitiously connect, they will shock and surprise, they will worry and hope, they will ponder, they will contemplate, they will be amazed …

They will cheer!

It’s Oscar season!

Drama, 106 Minutes, R
Written & Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist

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