TIFF 2014: ‘Whiplash’ is Even Better the Second Time Around
This was my second time watching ‘Whiplash,’ Damien Chazelle’s film that's basically about two sociopaths and their terrible relationship. One of these sociopaths (I’m exaggerating a little, but not by much) is played by Miles Teller as an up-and-coming jazz drummer trying to make it at the best music school in the country. The other is played by J.K. Simmons, his jazz instructor. Both of these people are assholes. Both of these people hate each other. Both of these people kind of need each other, but in the process, both do awful, awful things to each other. There’s no real reconciliation for these two. ‘Whiplash’ will never have these two characters put apart their differences and form a friendship. The dynamic between these two assholes is just what makes ‘Whiplash’ so incredible to watch.
I first saw ‘Whiplash’ at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. It was an oddly timed film, leading off the festival – a spot usually reserved for, well, something OK, but not a film that’s going to win the top prize at the festival, which ‘Whiplash’ eventually did. Watching for the first time, I remember thinking for most of the movie, OK, what’s the catch? When will this movie fly off the rails? It never did.
Here’s the thing: I could have seen something else other than 'Whiplash' - a movie I had already seen - as my first movie of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. I feel guilty about this, but I really wanted to see this again. Watching again – and knowing the outcome – there are so many beats in this movie that lead a viewer to think, Yep, I know where this is headed, but then ‘Whiplash’ throws a curveball during every single one of these beats. (I have a few more dumb sports analogies to try to explain this movie, but I will save them for my upcoming book, “Mike Ryan Reviews Movies Using Dumb Sports Analogies.”)
This is Miles Teller’s best performance. He was great in ‘The Spectacular Now,’ but this is the next level that we’ve been hearing about for awhile with Teller. It’s a weird thing with J.K. Simmons because people already like J.K. Simmons, but people have never seen Simmons like this before. He’s not “cute” mean like in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies; he’s legitimately an awful person and Simmons has a real knack for playing awful people. (I remember a few journalists at Sundance suggesting that Simmons could garner a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, which was kind of a funny thing to suggest considering that the prior year’s Oscars wouldn’t air for almost another two months. But, they may not have been wrong.)
I used the word “sociopath” to describe both Teller’s Andrew and Simmons’ Terence Fletcher, but both of these men are so driven to be the best at what they do, they don’t care who they hurt or what the repercussions are for their actions. When it comes to jazz music – of all things (not to disparage jazz music, but here it is treated like life or death) – these two are sociopaths. And their mutual success and their mutual destruction is fascinating to observe. And I liked this movie even more watching a second time.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.