WHIPLASH is a nightmare of a movie, full of implausible dishonesty and based on a premise that has zero relationship to the real world. Through the phenomenon of marketing it seems to have found an audience, although a quick check with Box Office Mojo confirms that it did not have legs.
And no wonder. It is a hateful, joyless movie, featuring totally unlikeable characters. What seems to have caught the approval of some critics is the terrific acting job of the main characters, though their skills are in the service of a dreadful, mean spirited and totally unrealistic script.
The basic premise – that achieving success in music requires a fierce, unrelenting and ruthless competitiveness with other musicians in a never ending cutthroat contest – is completely false. Music isn’t a sporting event, where one competitor wins and everyone else loses. It isn’t the Final Four or the Superbowl. Second, you don’t become a great musician through monomaniacal devotion to technical proficiency. That makes you boring, and this movie proves it.
So the overall themes are truly offensive to begin with. And then the delivery of these ideas in the script relies on one phony, implausible scene after another. For example, the lead character purports to be a dedicated educator who has technical skills so fine tuned that he can perceive with metronome accuracy whether a drummer is rushing or dragging in less than four beats. Totally false and not a single one of these scenes made sense to anyone with a real knowledge of music.
In one scene the aspiring drummer, late for a performance, has a car accident from which he flees the scene bloodied and arrives at the gig in time to perform. In addition to the several crimes has just committed (wreckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, etc? No explanation? No ticket? No consequences? What?) we are to believe he can still make the gig and deliver a credible performance. In another, he continues to perform until he is bleeding. In yet another he is humiliated and then supposedly redeemed by playing – of all things – Caravan with a drum solo! To which I can only comment – you’ve got to be kidding! And that had to be one of the most boring, tedious, endless drum solos in the entire history of music on film. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit through it once, let alone ever dial this feature film up for a second viewing. The first one was painful enough.
I’ve been playing with Chuck Berry – recognized universally as one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time – for over 40 years. Mr. Berry is known for, among other things, his infectious rhythms and his impeccable sense of time. Mr. Berry is an exacting performer, particularly focused on the concept of “swinging” and playing with an inspiring, relentless groove. Never once in all those years has Mr. Berry done anything but turn around and smile when he senses that one of the musicians in the band has slipped out of the groove or missed a break or a beat. That smile has gotten more mileage and better playing out of his sidemen than the bitter, ruthless haranguing of the lead character of Whiplash would get in a million years.