I remember watching Fantasia 2000 as a boy and being fascinated with the “Rhapsody in Blue” sequence. The big city, the skyscrapers, the tempo of the jazz music, and George Gershwin’s score would stick with me for years after. Eventually I would play “Rhapsody in Blue” at a high school piano recital. It has been 5 years since I have sat down at a piano, but Gershwin and jazz music still resonates within myself. These memories were brought up while I was watching “Whiplash”, the 2014 film from Damien Chazelle that has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%. Everyone has a dream, but few have the tenacity to pursue it. This cliché could be the tagline for “Whiplash”. The film’s protagonist, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), is an aspiring jazz drummer attending the top music school in the country. The school’s top conductor, who is known for his intense persona, is Terrance Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Neiman’s dream comes true when Fletcher takes an interest in him and recruits him for his band.
From then on the audience is given a front seat perspective in Neiman’s life as he pushes himself to his limits with the hopes of achieving musical greatness and, perhaps more importantly to Neiman, Fletcher’s approval. His passion borders on obsession, as he puts all that he cares about aside to focus on mastering his craft. Plenty of quick cuts timed with a fast paced jazz score keep this film moving right along. Even when no music was playing, I found myself tapping out a rhythm. Human empathy is crucial to this film. The feelings of inadequacy experienced by Neiman will strike a chord with many. The true pleasure came in the second act, however, when the film indulges itself and surprised me. The rise and fall of the film’s action seems familiar to most. I thought I knew how it would end, but the ending gives the viewer everything they never knew they wanted.What’s more important in movies? A good story or good acting? “Whiplash” is one of those great movies that has both.