[Film Review] “Whiplash” – I Wanna Be The Very Best (Like No One Ever Was)

Written by Brandon Sodhi

(Note: This was originally written for my personal Letterboxd account. Check that out here if you’re interested: http://letterboxd.com/sodhipop/)

Whiplash stars Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, Divergent) and JK Simmons (Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man trilogy) as a student-teacher duo in the world of Jazz performance. This film opened on October 17th in limited release, and will be expanding nationwide on November 14th. If this movie is playing near you, go see it. The following review contains ****MAJOR SPOILERS**** about the film’s ending. I think that the ending of Whiplash is, more-so than many other films, the absolute key to interpreting the film, however you interpret it. Because of this, I don’t feel like I can really speak about the film without going into specifics about the ending. I advise you SEE THE MOVIE FIRST, and then come back and read this review.

Whiplash is the second film I’ve seen this year with themes revolving around passion and inspiration, the first being Frank. The two films are two sides of the same coin: Frank dealt with the process of creation and creativity, Whiplash centers itself on drive and performance. The desire to be as great as you can be, greater than anyone ever thought you could be, and the hard work it takes to get there. One film is the passion of self-expression, the other is the want for achievement and to make an impact.

And I must say, as well shot and well scored and well acted as this film was, I was preparing myself to be a bit let down by it. Because right off the bat, it seemed like the story was going to be one we’ve heard a hundred times before: underdog kid with a dream gets sucked into an abusive relationship by a father figure who hurts him physically and emotionally, but the kid sticks around because he can’t see past the promise of becoming a great (drummer). So towards the end of the film, when Andrew (Miles Teller) walks off the stage humiliated, I thought I knew what semi-cliche ending the movie was going to have: kid finally reaches his breaking point, casts his abusive father figure away for good, tries to continue living life without his dream despite being constantly haunted by his abuser and what could have been.

Except, right at the last second, this movie gives us an unexpected Ash Ketchum hat-turn and steps back up to the plate. Andrew refuses to be bested and gets back on stage. The film shines a spotlight (figuratively and literally) on Andrew’s true character: he has an overwhelming sense of pride, a primal, unyielding drive, and has the audacity to compete with anyone, including his abusive father figure mentor. And it’s not that we didn’t already know this about Andrew, because the film had already shown us these characteristics in different ways. But I think many films would have scrapped that at the end to have an emotional Lesson About Abuse ending, with Andrew ending the film as a victim. And many films have had those types of endings in a very smart, effective, emotional way. I love those films as well.

But this film decides to stick with Andrew’s ultra driven nature, and opts to show a final showdown between student and master. And although Andrew and Fletcher’s relationship is abusive and toxic, at their core they are both the same: competitors. They have what sports fans call the “It Factor.” The willingness a select few have to embrace all the pain and continue moving forward, digging deeper and deeper into a dark, animalistic place in order to achieve greatness.

5/5

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