Tonight I saw Whiplash, starring Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons.
Based loosely on writer/director Damien Chazelle's own experiences, the film chronicles the study of Andrew (Teller) under the direction of Fletcher (Simmons) at the country's most prestigious school of music.
Andrew is just 19, the youngest one in the studio program, when he begins his jazz drills under the tough instructor. And when I say 'tough', I don't mean 'difficult' or 'challenging,' I mean downright menacing with a touch of evil.
Fletcher's character is the kind of guy who will pretend as if he's interested in you to learn personal things about you, solely for the purpose of someday using them against you. He's also (apparently) homophobic judging from the theme of his many slurs—used to make the students 'better' musicians, of course.
Although he's stronger than many of his classmates, Andrew does have moments of weakness, which Fletcher preys upon every chance he gets. It's really 107 minutes of watching excruciating pain and discomfort. But that doesn't mean it's bad.
Perhaps I had a visceral reaction to it because I had a family member and a dance coach who behaved in very similar fashions, but the fact I did recoil tells me there was something there to feel.
The performances are first rate, and the Oscar nomination Simmons received may even be unfairly shadowing the brilliance of Teller, who wears every moment of his journey on his face. We always know what he's thinking, even when he's not vocalizing.
I also appreciated the camera angles on the instruments, and the director's gift of perspective. I always felt like I was in that band room or on that stage.
Forgiving the painfully formulaic aspects of the movie, and going in to appreciate it vs. enjoy it makes it a fully worthwhile watch.