WHIPLASH (Damien Chazelle). 106 minutes. Opens Friday (October 24). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Audiences at Sundance and Cannes loved Whiplash, but I wonder how many of them subsequently realized its ultimate message is “Bullying works.”
If you’re carried along by the pure, impossible conflict at the heart of Damien Chazelle’s drama – about a drummer (Miles Teller) squaring off against a monstrous conductor (J.K. Simmons) for a potentially life-changing spot in his school’s jazz orchestra – then maybe you won’t mind.
Certainly, the overheated, heightened filmmaking is designed to push reality away. With Simmons hurling abuse and Teller doing his best to roll with each new humiliation, it’s basically Full Metal Drum Kit set at an elite Manhattan music college. Nothing matters but the battle of wills. Other characters are shut out or driven away. The only question is, will the kid crack or will the grown-up accept his talent?
Teller and Simmons commit completely, and their performances are enough to power the drama through its first hour. (It’d make a hell of a stage play, if anyone were crazy enough to mount it.) But Chazelle’s plot twists grow increasingly ridiculous, prizing intensity over credibility, and the final act has the feel of a fever dream. I just couldn’t go with it.