When I met Damien Chazelle, one of the first things I said to him was that his film WHIPLASH had to be one of the sweatiest movies ever made, up there with BEN HUR and COOL HAND LUKE. He laughed and said he was pleased to have filled such a niche market. That’s the kind of guy he is —
laid back, quick-witted, and fun. He’s also smart and focused, whether is talking to this correspondent, or making one of my favorite films of 2014.
When we spoke on October 8, 2014, I had a hard time choosing where to start. The film addresses so many issues of obsession, passion, and whether genius is born or made. It also features a breakout performance by J.K. Simmons as the music professor with his own agenda. It’s the sort of role that character actors pray for, and in this one, Simmons’ prayers have been answered. And so have ours. He’s an actor’s actor, as evidenced by a body of work that ranges from a white supremacist on HBO’s OZ, to a loving, if ironic, father in JUNO.
WHIPLASH is a film about passion, jazz, and blood on the drum kit. Miles Teller plays Andrew, a first-year student at the most prestigious music school in New York. His chosen instrument in the drum. His chosen pastime, becoming the greatest living drummer. His dream might just come true when Fletcher, the conductor of the senior Jazz band, hears him practicing late one night, and eventually invites him to join his elite group. Andrew learns that dreams and nightmares are two sides of the same coin, and so are greatness and madness as Fletcher pushes Andrew further than he thought he could, or should, go in pursuit of greatness. The film co-stars J.K. Simmons as Fletcher, Paul Reiser as Andrew’s father, and Melissa Benoist as the girl Andrew chooses not to make time for. Chazelle directed from his own script, His previous work includes GUY AND MADELAINE ON A PARK BENCH, THE LAST EXORCIM PART II, the award-winning GRAND PIANO, and the short film upon which WHIPLASH was based, also starring J.K. Simmons. It won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The short film won Sundance’s Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction in 2013.