5 Reasons Not to Say Good Job to Whiplash
We liked Whiplash, we really did. The character of Terence Fletcher was fascinating, an incredible performance from J.K. Simmons, but an enthralling character does not make for a five star film. Here are five elements about Whiplash that didn’t quite make it feel like a finished composition.
Warning: There are some major spoilers here. If you have not seen the film, (and we recommend that you do), come back and read this piece afterwards. We can wait.
1. Female Problems
Who knew that Jazz was such a male pursuit? There are exactly two women in the film seen playing music (and surprisingly not actress Melissa Benoist, who is a singer and musician). One woman is derided by Fletcher as being in the band because she is cute, (so funny that a woman could be beautiful and talented at the same time). The other woman is seen in the Jazz band put together by Fletcher at the end. But yet, in the core of the film, in Studio band, there is not one woman at all. And yet Fletcher, in a scene perhaps meant to humanize him, is extremely polite to a little girl, and asks her to play in the band when she grows up. And yet, she would have to make do in a band consisting entirely of guys. No place for women in his attempt to be best?
2. I’m Not With the Band
And what is worse, we never get to know any of the other members of studio band other than Neyman, except for the other drummers, Connelly and Tanner, who seem to exist solely as competition, (we certainly do not get to know them at all, except as antagonists). It would be interesting to hear how many members of the mainly nameless Studio band felt about Fletcher. Certainly, none of them come to newbie Neyman’s defense for fear of reprisal, though how come not one of them tries to stick up for ‘Elmer Fudd’ when he is being unfairly singled out?
3. A History of Violence
Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of the film is its treatment of Sean Casey. The first time that Fletcher mentions him to the Studio band, it is to stress that he perished in a car accident. He seems to be really broken up by it as well. And yet, it is later revealed that Fletcher somehow drove Sean Casey to kill himself, even though Casey had become quite successful as a Jazz musician. It is surprising to hear that Fletcher has been so consistently demonic that he has driven a former student to suicide, and yet, in his reign of terror, not one other student has ever thought to report him. “I knew that it was you”.
4. A Crashing Halt
It is meant to be inspiring, the lengths that Neyman will go to secure his place in the band. Director Damian Chazalle favours showing off the blood, sweat and tears that Neyman leaves behind in his pursuit of becoming one of the greats. So why does he need to crawl from the wreckage of a car crash to show the extremes he is willing to go to impress Terence Fletcher? Throughout Whiplash, Neyman acts as a willing adversary, proving himself to do what it takes to succeed. It would have been interesting to see Fletcher encourage or in some way inspire Neyman, or to see him fail on his own merit, rather than resorting to a car crash.
5. Fletcher’s Major Malfunction
The one question that we have not been able to answer is: What does Fletcher want? His actions towards the end of the movie certainly seem to be going to extremes to humiliate and destroy Neyman. To what end? Why does Fletcher go to the trouble of training an entire band of players only to set up and attempt to ruin the drummer? The audience will hear Neyman ruin the song Upswinging, because he was not given the music, (was there no rehearsal?) Then when Neyman returns to the band and does incredible work on Caravan, (though not a “good job”), Fletcher is transfixed by his extended drum solo, locking eyes with his student in a kind of ‘aha’ moment, like that was his plan to bring out the best in him, (remember, he had set him up for failure not a few minutes before!) So did his plan work?
It is left to the viewer as to whether Fletcher has actually helped Neyman become one of the greats. It seems like Neyman, (Miles Teller), has done a “good job” on his own.