NEW YORK (CNS) — “Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) is to music education what “Mommie Dearest” is to parenting.
Screen dramas set in the notoriously exacting milieu of the jazz world are exceedingly rare. The morally troubling and illogical “Whiplash” may make them even scarcer.
Writer-director Damien Chazelle sets out to portray a familiar story about a hard-driving teacher, a willing student and the tough-minded sacrifices necessary for professional success.
Instead, he produces a bizarre amoral fiction in which both emotional and physical abuse appear to be their own reward.
Chazelle depicts human behavior as a sanity- and rationality-free caricature. Miles Teller plays Andrew, an ambitious drummer at the fictional Shaffer Conservatory in New York. In an undeniably mesmerizing turn, J.K. Simmons is Fletcher, Andrew’s cruel instructor who’s always clad in black.
Since the drummer controls the tempo in jazz, and Andrew wants to play in the school’s elite ensemble, there’s no room for error. Impatient when he’s not being vicious, Fletcher is the demonic embodiment of rampaging perfectionism.
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job,'” he sneers at Andrew.
Fletcher frequently repeats the story of legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, who supposedly stepped up his game after Jo Jones, the drummer for Count Basie, hurled a cymbal at his head when his timing was off. (In truth, Jones probably lobbed the cymbal at Parker’s feet).
Andrew’s rage for musical immortality is so consuming that he gives up a budding romance with girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist). At a family gathering, he announces, “I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remember who I was.”
Thus we’re treated to the depressing spectacle of a kid deliberately surrendering his soul.
It’s not unexpected when Fletcher resorts to insults, humiliates all the band members, throws drums against the wall or learns that one of his previous star pupils committed suicide. It’s when he starts slapping Andrew to keep tempo and begins sadistically breaking down his pupil’s psyche that the proceedings really cross the line.
The film contains misguided values, degrading behavior, pervasive profanities and crass language as well as occasional ethnic and sexual slurs. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
Help us keep you informed -- CatholicPhilly.com can't do it without youDuring CatholicPhilly.com's fall donation campaign, you have a way to help us deliver the kind of news you need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live. Every household's costs keep rising, and we're no different. We make sure your dollars in any amount go a long way toward continuing our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month. Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can -- a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Or by credit card here: