Before seeing this film, I thought back to two women I knew in my life to be the best instructors I ever had. The first was my High School Speech Coach. I was never one of her favorites, or one of the best on the team, but she was always one of my favorite teachers. Was she tough? Well, let us just say that one of the highlights of High School for me was that she never made me cry. She may not have been the easiest pill to swallow, but she was the right one to. I still love and respect Miss Heiteen to this day (some of my old friends from High School called her by her first name, but I never could: I still hold that respect of calling her Miss Heiteen).
The second was my acting Coach in College, and while I only had her for two semesters, I never respected or feared anyone more (We all did one hundred jumping jacks due to someone yawning, and were warned about doing a hundred laps around the building if it happened again. It never did.) Professor Gately (who was known for teaching the late James Gandolfini), was someone who, like Miss Heiteen, I would never dream of showing up late for. Her advice to me: “I am the audience: If you bore me, God help you.”
I got the same feeling I got when these two taught as I was watching the little gem of greatness, “Whiplash”. It was originally a short film made by director (and writer) Damien Chazelle, but after winning the grand jury prize at Sundance, it was given the funding to be a feature length film. It stars the great young actor Miles Teller as Andrew, a young drumming prospect at fictional music academy in New York, known as the best in the country. He listens to the greats, especially Buddy Rich, and is dedicated. This is just the warm up of the movie (pun intended).
What he is not prepared for is the music instructor Terrence Fletcher. He is played by character actor J.K. Simmons (better known as “Juno”s dad, J.J. Jameson in the first “Spiderman” Franchise, and the voice of the all state commercials). His work here is a tour de force. Actually, it is more a tour of force. The feeling I got with the two instructors I mentioned at the beginning was around every time Simmons was on screen. He has, in a nutshell, set the tempo for Best Supporting Actor.
That does not mean that Fletcher is not without heart. He just is one who will push and push until he gets the result he needs (and resorts to practices that I am glad I never had in any extra curricular activity I ever took).
Miles Teller is also very well here as the student (he himself a drummer since he was 15), and it is these two actors who really carry this unique, wonderful film. Parents: The movie deserves it’s R rating, and I doubt anyone who sees it will want to try Jazz Band in High School (which I did and loved), let alone in College. However, it is known that those who play percussion in High School tend to be the ones goofing off a lot. If you are a band director like Fletcher, your students in percussion would be too afraid to talk ever again.
Overall Rating: Four and a half stars: **** 1/2