Some of you reading this review right now have a regret over not learning that instrument–be it the trumpet, flute, guitar, or the piano. I regret not learning the piano, and I blame myself for not having applied myself through practice nor, I resolve, not having the talent nor skill to learn it. If we were to dig deep into our memories, I’ll bet most of us would find that we abandoned our music lessons because of that one teacher who whacked our knuckles with a ruler or called us stupid for missing a note on a scale. These approaches to learning crushed our spirits; after all, we practiced and practiced until our fingers cramped from the discipline.
If you resonate with this anecdote, then Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle, is a film you will appreciate. Whiplash stars Miles Teller, who plays Andrew Neimann, a talented drummer who aspires to become a great artist like legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich. He is accepted into Schaffer, a most prestigious east coast conservatory of music. There, Neimann gives himself over to his drums and to every minute required to develop his skill as a drummer. He wants to become a member of the school’s esteemed Jazz band and, with discipline and dedication, he believes he can make it. He does, and falls under the tutelage of the sadistic conductor, Terence Fletcher, played with estimable skill by J. K. Simmons. Once Neimann is selected as a core drummer for the band, Fletcher inflicts cruel and unusual punishment on his nineteen-year-old progeny. It’s not that Fletcher hates Neimann. No. It’s that Fletcher wants Neimann to be all that he can be; to realize the artistic genius that is lying dormant inside of him; and, to pull from his feet through the pelvic through the rib cage and branch off into the hands that hold the sticks that beat the drums in Fletcher’s jazz band. But … Neimann must endure Fletcher’s verbal and physical abuse to get into those places.
Miles Teller is genius as Andrew Neimann. He takes the audience into the vein of a psycho yearning to not only belong, but to master both his instrument and his emotions in the presence of a vicious taskmaster. The anticipation of that final jazz concert, however, keeps the adrenalin flowing, and we push with Neimann through his personal challenges to make it to the stage. Paul Reiser plays Neimann’s devoted father, Jim, who keeps the confidence for his son as he faces humiliation. Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is a riveting film that will leave you emotionally spent but feeling victorious!
We may have put away our instruments, but Andrew Neimann’s victory will direct us to the dark recesses of our closet and pull out the flute or trumpet or clarinet; or, to raise the piano’s cover and play those keys!
Whiplash plays through December 4 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.
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