Worse than the sixth grade

Miles Teller and J K Simmons in Whiplash

Miles Teller and J K Simmons in Whiplash


The worst teacher I ever had was Sister John Lucy, my sixth grade tormentor until we moved to Orinda.  She was domineering, abusive, nasty and all around miserable–and she particularly hated the smartest kid in the class who asked questions she couldn’t answer.  That was not a fun semester of school, and my parents of course sided with “Sister”, who could do no wrong.  20 years later they would admit she was seriously disturbed, but that was a bit too late.

What makes me thing of that particular black veiled monster?  The movie Whiplash.  The story of a freshman at a prestigious music college and his evil bandmaster is a movie with some very good sequences, some dreadfully bad scriptwriting and an evil antagonist who is so well performed that the actor J. K. Simmons is a favorite for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.

The movie is the story of Andrew Neyman, a young man who burns to be the best drummer possible, attending music school in New York.  He is plucked from freshman obscurity to try out for the premier jazz band by Terence Fletcher (J K Simmons), the terrifying, imposing, brilliant bandmaster who rules with an iron hand. Just to be a jerk, Fletcher tells the kid to get the bandroom at 6 am, although class starts at 9.

Life goes downward from there, as Fletcher terrorizes the band members in relentless pursuit of perfection.  Wining an annual band competition is his only real purpose in life, although he contends his behavior is for the purpose of improving the players.

J K Simmons is magnificent in this role.  I just can’t get behind a movie that ultimately honors this insane, psychopathic misanthrope.  He should never be allowed in a classroom, and it is inconceivable to me that he would be allowed to continue his career of terrorizing, abusing, insulting, demoralizing and physically attacking his students.

Further, the script contains some of the laziest, cheesiest plot devices ever seen.  Here’s one sequence:

The band is to perform somewhere out of town, and everyone is to be in their place by 5:30.  Our hero, Andrew, takes the bus–apparently the only one in the band to do so, everybody else has other methods of transportation.

Oh no! The bus gets a flat tire.

He finds a car rental place.

Oh no! They are closed.

He gets them to open, gets a car (and how does a 18 year old college freshman rent a car?)  and arrives at the auditorium.

Oh No!  He forgot his sticks at the car rental agency.  He has exactly 10 minutes before the performance begins.

He races back to the agency and grabs his sticks. (Why are they still open? They were closing an hour earlier when he got there?)

OH NO!  Racing back, he is distracted, runs a stop sign and is T-BONED BY A SEMI!.

He crawls out of the car, which is upside down.

He crawls back into the car to get his sticks.

Bleeding and wounded, he runs 4 blocks and miraculously makes it in time to perform.

I can’t take it.

The plot goes downhill.

Fletcher the tyrant is fired.  Andrew finds him playing in a cafe, and makes nice with him, for some unfathomable reason.  Fletcher offers him a chance to perform in another band, then trips him up by providing no sheet music.  The kid tries to fake it, and is embarrassed publicly.  He flees the stage.  He returns to the stage.  He gets fired up and gives the performance of a lifetime, with Fletcher helping lovingly.  The end.

I’m not a fan of Whiplash.  The performances are excellent, Gail loved learning about drumming, the cinematography is beautiful, but the the character of the teacher (who should be considered the lead, not a supporting actor) is too unpleasant and unrealistic for me, and the holes in the plot could supply a swiss cheese factory for a month.



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