by Richard Gould
Why has WHIPLASH struck the chord it has, coming from nowhere to bring A-list fame upon J. K. Simmons (our friendly Farmer’s agent) and garner a best picture nomination? Maybe because Simmons’ Terence Fletcher, Shaffer Conservatory’s charismatic demon-instructor offers a bracing alternative to participant-trophy youth. Call it focused feedback, or Amy Chua meets Dr. House. Young student drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and Fletcher actually share a belief that the heights of jazz, like all excellence, are privileged spaces where craft is everything and the muses are fickle. If you’re lucky enough to rate–never mind where you’re from–you might win yourself fifty shades of love and caring from the likes of a Mr. Fletcher. Any emotional wreckage that follows, Fletcher might argue, is a misplaced concern if the faith is good and the zone is felt. When a lawyer queries, “Did he ever intentionally inflict emotional distress?” the question’s cluelessness at that late stage of the film only serves to highlight the looking-glass world Whiplash has brought us through, and the growing distance between where we thought young Andrew’s humanity lay and where it actually might be. Hardly a reviewer has missed the chance to use “abusive” or “sadistic” in describing J.K. Simmons’ tempo-minded studio jazz band leader Fletcher, but sadists haunt every room in the multiplex these days. Some third-act cheating eventually bring Whiplash down on the side of the angels<0x2014>but just barely. As an anonymous Oscar voter told the Reporter last week, “There are many people in Hollywood who would model themselves on Fletcher.” A film that clouds your thinking on mentors–just slightly–it might bring to mind the best teacher you ever had … or the worst.