So, then. That was good. I’m not sure how. But it was. In a nutshell, this is a film about the abusive relationship between a boy who wants to be the big shit at playing the drums, and his craggy-faced, consistently livid drill sergeant/music teacher who tries to bully him into being the best.
The boy, Andrew, plays the drums until his hands bleed. Fletcher, his teacher screams obscenities and regularly throws his toys out of his pram (and at Andrew’s head). This is essentially a story about a very fraught, tense relationship between the abusive alpha male and his subordinate.
Fletcher is desperate. Having never quite reached the heady heights of musical success in his own right, he attempts to live vicariously through this students. Having identified great potential in the new boy, Andrew, he uses the boy as a pawn, a means to satisfy his own craving for critical acclaim. To be known as the mentor of a renowned performer apparently being the next best thing to his own success.
The misguided (and dangerous?) teacher uses any tactic he can think of to manipulate, coerce, threaten and bully his young protegé on to success. In turn, Andrew tries harder and harder to impress. It’s a classic story of domestic violence (by the way, don’t you hate that term? “Domestic” makes it sounds so innocuous). Instead of sticking two fingers up to his psychopathic band leader, and finding another way to fulfil his dream, he kowtows to Fletcher’s unrealistic and unrelenting demands. The worse his abuser’s behaviour becomes, the harder the victim tries.
As Fletcher’s mistreatment of Andrew escalates, events take a turn which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen this film. If you haven’t seen it, by the way, you totally should.
There are clear homoerotic undertones throughout Whiplash, and if it weren’t for Paul Reiser’s turn as Andrew’s dad, I’d have thought he had some major daddy issues. On a side note, does anyone remember My Two Dads? I used to love that show, although in hindsight I’m sure it was probably shit.
In conclusion, Whiplash is a relentless assault on the senses. But in a good way. The drum-heavy soundtrack is spot on, and helps to build excitement. Miles Teller was a real surprise as Andrew, and J.K Simmons was just brilliant as the crazy teacher. The whole thing is totally over the top – way over the top – but it just works. I did find it kind of strange that they got in such a flap about playing the drums, I mean, come on, it’s just THE DRUMS! But if you can get past that, and you realise that this is basically a homoerotic melodrama about a violent May to December romance, with drums, I think you’ll enjoy it.