“Whiplash” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

With awards season quickly coming up, one will find more and more films hitting the box office in order to start grabbing moviegoers’ attention. The Skeleton Twins made its debut (to critical praise) at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and Whiplash is looking to follow suit. Having also premiered at this year’s Sundance, Whiplash tells the tale of a talented young drummer named “Andrew” as he tries to navigate the hellish life of a music student at a cutthroat music conservatory. Andrew’s entire life changes when he is discovered by “Fletcher”, the conservatory’s top instructor whose band is regarded as the BEST in the business. Fletcher soon invites Andrew to join his band, albeit as an alternate, and Andrew quickly learns that this dream position is not what it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it’s far worse, and turns out to be an experience that will make or break him.

Andrew is played by Miles Teller who only continues to shine and show that he can do it all. Teller can do drama just as easily as comedy; he’s been the lead in movies like The Spectacular Now and the soon-to-be released Two Night Stand; and he’s already attached to several large studio franchises a la Divergent and Fox’s The Fantastic Four reboot. Teller’s fast rise to stardom is similar to careers of fellow young peers Shailene Woodley and Jennifer Lawrence, so it’s a pretty safe bet to say that the caliber of projects for Teller is only going to continue to skyrocket from here. Fletcher is played by acting vet J.K. Simmons, whose work here has already been hailed as the performance of his career. Simmons has played a variety of characters over his venerable career, but is most probably remembered for playing roles on the sillier, comedic side. If that’s the kind of work you know Simmons, you are in for quite a ride here.

Simmons’ Fletcher is a two-faced monster. On one hand, he’s a gifted band instructor, known for teaching only the most talented students–truly passionate about music and his craft. On the other hand, as passionate as Fletcher is about music, he is equally sadistic and borderline sociopathic in his methods and constant pursuit of perfection. If you ever took band in school, I’m sure there will be aspects in Fletcher that you will resonate with. Most former band students will attest to having memories of their band instructors yelling, cursing, and throwing temper tantrums during rehearsals, which in the world of band, is a relatively normal behavior. However, Fletcher isn’t a normal band director (he’s probably more equivalent to a band dictator), and rules the lives of his students with an iron fist. This duality to Fletcher makes him all the more sinister, since just when you think he is nothing but a tyrannical instructor, he shows just enough glimpses of his humanity to relate to the guy, and even sympathize with him.

Simmons truly is a sight to behold in Whiplash. Fletcher is a fully fleshed out character full of complexities. As previously mentioned, he’s not your straightforward villain, and Simmons shows you just enough of his softer side to really throw you for a loop. There were times in the movie when I utterly hated Fletcher, and then there were other times when I was actually rooting for him! In particular, there’s a moment in the film when Fletcher learns that one of his former students died, causing him to openly express his grief and sadness to his band–truly touching stuff. Of course, Teller’s Andrew is no slouch either, and having someone like Simmons to play off of truly pushes Teller’s performance to its limits. One of the best ways to pull a strong performance out of an actor is to pit them against other amazing actors, and that was exactly the case here between Teller and Simmons. Throughout the course of the film, we get to see Andrew transform from a plucky, hopeful drummer, to a self-possessed man hell bent on perfecting his craft, or die trying . . . literally. Teller should also be given extra praise on his drumming skills alone. He’s not a professional drummer, but, in addition to his previous experience, trained extensively prior to filming–the final result is extremely convincing.

Although I could easily go on and on about the psychological game of chess between Andrew and Fletcher, there are other noteworthy performances to mention. Paul Reiser has a nice turn here playing Andrew’s father “Jim”. Although the Mad About You alum is known for his more comedic roles, his role as Teller’s father is purely dramatic. Jim’s relationship with his son is subtle–the two have regular movie nights with each other, and although the two don’t share many words on the screen with each other, you can readily tell that there is a close bond between the two, which attests to the actors’ skills and overall chemistry with each other. Jim takes on a more active role in Andrew’s life when tensions with Fletcher come to a head, forcing him to intervene and further validate his relationship with his son. Side note–Reiser was recently seen in the Aubrey Plaza indie Life After Beth, which also premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. If you have more than one movie screen at a festival like Sundance, let alone star in said films, you’re in pretty good shape.

Further adding to the complications in Andrew’s life is “Nicole”, a cute girl-next-door type that he asks out and starts to date. She is played by Melissa Benoist, who, after becoming a series regular on Fox’s hit show Glee, has been steadily rising through the Hollywood ranks. Although network television shows don’t allow their regulars too much down time between seasons (shooting 22 to 24 episodes a season is a LOT), Benoist has been making the best of her down time starring in indies–she recently finished shooting Billy Boy, where she plays opposite her Glee costar Blake Jenner (Jenner also wrote and produced the film on top of acting in it). Benoist is next appearing in the Nicholas Sparks film The Longest Ride, so you should definitely expect to see a lot more of her on the big and small screens.

The last two guys in Andrew’s life worth mentioning are his drumming cohorts–“Ryan” and “Carl”, played by actors Austin Stowell and Nate Lang, respectively. Lang’s Carl is the senior drummer of the three, and has a quiet, yet always “on edge” quality to him. Tensions run high between him and Andrew, since Fletcher first brings Andrew in as an alternate, but then has him take over for Carl when Fletcher isn’t happy with his drumming. Stowell’s Ryan shares similar qualities to Andrew–he’s a wide-eyed and hopeful drummer, and more than eager to replace Andrew on the drums when the opportunity arises. Although Stowell only has a supporting part here, he readily pops out and is a bit of a scene stealer–mostly due to his ultra charm and cuteness. You’ll see him in more leading man roles sooner rather than later.

For the sake of being nitpicky, I will say that it would have been great to see more tension and development between Andrew and the other people in his life, i.e., his father, Nicole, Carl, and Ryan. Excluding Reiser, these supporting characters are all great up-and-coming actors, which only made me want to see more of them on screen. In particular, the internal conflict and rivalry between Andrew, Ryan, and Carl could have been played up much more. The story readily shows how Fletcher destroys Andrew’s life, but we don’t really get to see how he affected Carl and Ryan’s lives, let alone everyone else in the band. Nitpicking aside, Whiplash really is about the relationship between Andrew and Fletcher, so I readily forgive the film for not focusing too much on its more ancillary characters. Teller and Simmons put in outstanding performances, and Simmons has already been getting Oscar buzz for his part. Watching Fletcher gave me feelings of terror and stress–visceral reactions that I don’t feel too often when watching films–so I can tell you that Simmons is more than deserving of all the critical praise and attention.

This entry was posted in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
Kyle