Whiplash: Review – Sundance Film Festival 2014

By Meredith Alloway · January 18, 2014

It's 8:20 am in Park City, Utah. I'm sleeping on the couch. Let me specify: I've been trying to sleep for the past hour wondering whether I should get my ass up or forfeit my day to the leather cushions. Day one of Sundance has officially begun.

Luckily, the decision was made for me. I get a text from a publicist that she has my Whiplash ticket outside Eccles Theater. Shit. Teeth brushed, banana grabbed and then running in the snow. When the movie ended, all I could think was, thank God I got out of bed.

Opening the festival Thursday night, the film was the perfect way to start. As Director of programming Trevor Groth put it, "with a bang." Director Damien Chazelle returns to the festival after having a short here, of the same title, last year. 

The film centers on Andrew Neiman, a 19 yr old music student who's life dream is to be one of the greats. Played by Sundance darling Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now), Neiman is hard-working, passionate and still somewhat naive. When he meets Professor Fletcher, his world changes in a way that suggests the significance of the title Whiplash. J.K. Simmons (Juno) makes Fletcher boom with bravado, walking the fine line of tyrant and teacher. When Neiman is given the chance to play in Fletcher's band, he has to "earn it."

The relationship between teacher and student is explored brilliantly by Chazelle. When does motivating a student tip over into manipulation and ultimately a sort of physiological torture? Fletcher assures Neiman that a true musician is made after a cymbal is thrown at his head. He does nearly the same to the young drummer, tossing chairs, insults and spit at his face with a demented pleasure. Neiman bleeds and sweats onto his drums, all to prove to Fletcher he's worthy. Ambition and hard work is a twisted and touchy theme at play.

Teller proves, if he hadn't already, that he's most assuredly at the forefront of the next generation of leading actors. Here he's charming and sincere, but still slightly cocky and hot-tempered. At the end of the day, Teller knows how to bring himself to each role. He is a drummer after all. But at the end of the day, it's refreshing to see a character work for something. It's even better to see that an actor and a filmmaker did the same. At the Q&A Teller discussed that he and Chazelle would rehearse for four hours a day for weeks. Chazelle reveals that Fletcher is based on a teacher he had in high school that drove him to anxiety for many years. Chazelle used it as his fuel.

I'm glad I got out of bed. Whether it's the film industry or a drum set, something will consistently challenge you. Seeing films that motivate you to sweat it out, at whatever cost, is always inspiring.