Friday, December 12, 2014

Whiplash

Wow. Just wow. This kid, this Damien Chazelle at 29 has decided to write and direct his first movie, and to make it one of the best films of the year. Maybe the best.

Back at UCLA, there was this girl, a classic California girl named Maureen, who came into the music department, all sunshine and smiles, tan and blonde, a Bruin cheerleader on the side. Within three months, it had reduced her to a pallid, nervous, hair-falling-out wreck of a human being. I think she transferred to chemistry/pre-med because it was so much less stressful.

When a similar anecdote is mentioned here (in passing), I laughed. And laughed. And laughed some more. But then I laughed like crazy when Fletcher had a casual, friendly chat with new recruit Andrew before their first rehearsal. Hard enough that The Boy leaned in to ask me what he was missing.

Well, you just have to know those kinds of people. Every music school has to have at least one, it seems.

This is the story of a jazz drummer (Andrew) who's driven to be great, and a teacher (Fletcher) who's driven to create greatness, and the many clashes they have over the course of a year or so. There is so much suspense, and so many great twists and turns in this film, it puts to shame most of the thrillers we've seen.

It hits close enough to home that I probably can't be trusted, but The (largely a-musical) Boy also was really impressed. Paul Reiser and (relative newcomer) Melissa Benoist do a fine job in supporting roles as Andrew's father and girlfriend, respectively, but this really comes down to a movie about Andrew and Fletcher.

Andrew is played by Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, Divergent) and Fletcher is played by J. K. Simmons, who's been doing great work for 20 years, but just tears up this role. Talks of Oscar are neither far-fetched nor unwarranted here. You're never really sure who Fletcher is until the very end of the movie, and Simmons (aided by Chazelle's script) makes any number of possibilities plausible.

I liked the music though it's not really my kind of music. I tend to think modern jazz self-indulgent. "Oh, look at me, I'm in 7/12 time!" Get over yourself, I say.

Nah, it's good. And it's perfect for the story.

Chazelle, besides writing a tight script, keeps the direction tight, too. Intense, tight, nail-biting, and some would probably say "over the top", but I can only assume they don't know musicians.

What else is there to say? It's a shoo-in to make the year-end "best" lists.

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