Monday, January 5, 2015

Critic Glenn Kenny on the overrated WHIPLASH (contains plot spoilers).

Yes, Damien Chazelle's problematic-but-overpraised-by-many WHIPLASH is well acted--particularly by male leads Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and Paul Reiser.  But, as illustrated by the Glenn Kenny quote from his blog SOME CAME RUNNING below, it's a film that wants to have it both ways (thinking back to WHIPLASH's sort-of-spirtual-father, the 1977-released Robby Benson-tormented-by-coach-G.D. Spradlin basketball "story of a winner" ONE ON ONE), having the martinet teacher (who curses and throws out homophobic epithets, unlike the humiliate-in-public band directors I experienced in elementary school, high school and college) torment the student, who then has to show he's Good Enough to impress the Master Tormentor.

Here's the passage from Glenn Kenny--link to the complete post comparing WHIPLASH with BIRDMAN:

Birdman made its positive impression on me because it swept me up in the contrivances of its world. Damien Chazelle's Whiplash did not. On leaving the screening I attended, I thought, "It's not that the movie gets jazz wrong—although it does—it’s that it gets LIFE ON THE PLANET EARTH wrong." (The aforementioned Mr. Brody has written most trenchantly on how it gets jazz wrong.) There's a lot of dynamic filmmaking on display here, most of it in the service of utter horseshit. 
First there's its near-Randroid vision of artistic excellence and non-compromise. (The fact that this is coming from a Harvard graduate kind of stoked my own largely dormant but slightly unpredictable feelings of class resentment, but never mind.)  Much is made about martinet music teacher Terence Fletcher’s speech in which he derides the phrase “Good job,” but more stressful and possibly significant is actor J.K. Simmons’ fake-chirpy delivery of the instruction “have fun.” None of the musicians portrayed in Whiplash are seen to have fun—these guys, and they’re mostly guys, play music, but they don’t play. They’re not seen interacting outside of practice; they don’t get to articulate their ideas about the material they’re playing. Which is all fine, arguably, if the whole jazz thing in the movie is just a pretext for a metaphor anyway. But still. The calculus of the metaphor wants to have things two ways—making art is an exalted thing and it's hard work and it also makes you a bad person, and YOU don't wanna be a bad person—and in that sense, the movie lords it over its audience unforgivably. "Professional. Do Not Attempt."
Some say that all great art flirts with ridiculousness; at the end, Whiplash goes far enough so as to achieve it. The idea that a respected musician would deliberately sabotage a performance of his own ensemble out of spite against a single player, and do it in front of a packed house at Carnegie Hall,  does, I have to say,  test credulity. As does the idea that, after haplessly fucking up on account of an omitted chart (wait, wasn’t this the guy who memorized the “Caravan” chart?) that single player would stalk off the stage of Carnegie Hall, continue to the stage door exit, get hugs from his personification-of-agreeable-mediocrity dad...then go back to the stage and blow the roof off the place. Imagine if in Raging Bull Jake La Motta took that beating from Sugar Ray Robinson, got dragged from the ring, chewed out by Joey... and then returned to the ring, called Ray out and beat him. Yeah sure. 
Also: “the bus gets a flat tire” is seriously the “dog ate my homework” of plot machinations. ALSO: the whole climax of the movie is built around the idea of " 'Caravan' with a drum solo," which is likely to cause profound giggle fits in anyone conversant with early Frank Zappa.

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