October 18, 2015

Whiplash (2014)

Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons


Ahhh... abuse. We're all against it, unless it's helping someone get better at sports.

I'm just going to put this out there: the treatment of Miles Teller by J.K. Simmons in this movie is only shocking to people because Teller's character is training to be a drummer and not a quarterback or power forward. Think about it: how often do we praise hockey players for getting stitched up without aneasthetic (because it would take too long) and going back out on the ice? Or players who compete with broken limbs? Why do you think the former NFL players with brain damage from sustaining repeated concussions had such trouble suing the NFL over their injuries? We worship the "tough guy" approach to coaching. It's the same reason Bob Knight keeps getting hired.

I feel sort of on the fence about this whole scenario. On one hand, I had some hard ass coaches myself growing up and frankly, I responded to their methods of "encouragement." (Though to be clear, nothing anywhere as extreme as what's shown in the movie.) When you want to improve and be the best in your field, you are willing to do whatever an expert tells you you need to do to achieve it. It's perverse, probably, but it also likely explains the baffling number of professional athletes who have seemingly decent IQs yet took steroids. Not excusing cheating (which really what steroids are), but an addiction to winning can certainly warp people's sense of right and wrong.

Speaking of sports, I'm not going to lie--the extended practice sequences would have been more entertaining for me had it been sports and not the drums. Sure, I appreciate music, but I really don't have an ear to know what is good drumming. Obviously Teller's character is really good at them, and we see him sweating profusely over rapid fire movement, but I have no way to tell you what it should sound like. So it's impressive, but not as impressive as it probably should have been.

What is impressive is J.K. Simmons. He is simultaneously terrifying and intriguing, not the least of which is because he also does those Farmers Insurance commercials. I don't often go back and watch Oscar-nominated (or winning) movies afterward because the hype frequently outweighs the actual film, but his Best Supporting Oscar was rightfully earned. Simmons is actually so good, I found myself mentally forgiving Miles Teller for Divergent just for being in this movie.

I'm also selling the movie short with my sports analogy. It's not just a sports movie for music people. It's less about a regular underdog story and more about the our complex need for approval from authority figures and the intricacies of abusive relationships. You see the justifications from both sides, and it's both horrifying to watch and impossible to look away. It's certainly a thinking movie. You know, once you get over the shock of it.

Final word: Intense.

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