5 winning things about Whiplash

Talk about an outstanding film.  Winner of both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, Whiplash is quite the achievement for first-time writer/director Damien Chazelle.   The film tells the riveting story of the conflict between a soft-spoken musical prodigy and his rabidly domineering music instructor.  My poor description doesn’t do it justice, so take a look at the trailer; you’ll be hooked, too.   My 5 things follow after the jump:

1)  J. Jonah Jameson, I mean, J.K. Simmons absolutely kills it.  This guy is the character actor’s character actor, he has been in so much stuff (mostly TV it seems) and he’s always playing larger than life roles (like Spiderman’s Daily Bugle boss Jameson). But THIS role more than any other seems to be the one he was meant to play.  In fact, I now believe he was always a drill sargent-like jazz music conductor in real life who happened to dabble in a little acting here and there. Oh man, you just want to punch him right in his considerable nose.

2)  Miles Teller rocks it out.  Okay, “jazzes” it out? How about tears it up?  Not only does he play the crap out of his character, a first-year student at “the best music school in the country,” but he also beats the hell out of those drums.  In fact, I left the theater completely impressed that this young actor was also a stellar jazz drummer.  Well, turns out that Chazelle and his team had something to do with that.  Teller is in fact a drummer… but rock is what he favors.  He took a crash course in jazz prior to filming, and was supported by real jazz musicians as well as great cinematography and editing.

3)  Did I already mention the great cinematography and editing?  Sharone Meir’s cinematography probably won’ t win any technical awards, but his team’s camera work was fluid and dynamic, the tones appropriately warm.  And the editing by Tom Cross was just as percussive as the many drum solos.  It’s a tough task filming a musical ensemble with so many different players, and this team pulled it off magnificently.

4)  The story is amazing.  You go into this moving thinking it’s going to be one thing… perhaps a “tough love” coach story, maybe an abusive relationship scenario… and Chazelle starts throwing curveballs and suddenly it’s looking like a psychological thriller, with a aw-shucks heartfelt romance in the middle of it.   And then Chazelle throws a changeup.  Like I said, amazing.  It takes you places you never expected to go, but you end up being glad you went for the ride.

5)  The music seals the deal.  You don’t have to be a full-on jazz buff to appreciate the music in Whiplash  Every musician on screen is supremely talented, and the selection of songs stays on the crowd-pleasing side.  Do yourself a favor and stick around for the credits; you’ll hear two more drum solos that will have you tapping your feet.

Director Damien Chazelle is certainly one to watch for in the future.  His ability to handle a story of this complexity, and to get such strong performances from his cast, is a great sign of things to come.  We have him In the Lobby her at Visionary or Hack, but he is certainly showing signs of moving to the Hall of Visionaries sometime soon.

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