It’s a familiar scenario and not the kind of thing I would usually drag myself across town to see due to prejudices I will presently enumerate, but then, you know… universal acclaim, etc etc. Is it good? Yes and I have little hesitation in conceding that. Did it deserve all those award noms? Yes, and here comes the caveat- because most of them were technical. From a technical POV, Whiplash should have slurped up every darn gong going because the photography was primo and the cut and flow were dense with the elegance and dynamism essential to the successful communication of so many non-visual elements. The thing is paced with the kind of brilliantly reactive, staccato precision you might expect from a gifted musician, testament to the obviously polymathic vision of Chazelle- he penned + directed this off the back of his own experiences- and the tightarse talent of his crew. There is very little narrative flab and the arc is okay as far as its conventionality allows. Whiplash is a slick and solid view, I doubt you’ll regret your investment in its 106m minutes and I say that as someone who fucking hates jazz (at least the kind pursued herein).
Andrew the percussive arsehole is well documented and probably honestly intended. But arseholes are like flint; ubiquitous, and whilst you’ll sometimes get a spark from knocking two of them together, you might just have known one too many of the buggers (talented and otherwise) to really care about this Andrew or his piano bar bête noire. The flipside of that is my enduring distaste for the popular artist-as-tortured-douchecanoe trope, pandering to audience expectation and nourishing destructive notions about the talented- that they are somehow infernal, that marginalisation and exploitation are their due and even their masochistic intent. Every artist feels that blowback to some extent. I may be oversensitive about that shit, but fuck, whatever, man. *flips desk and storms out*
Pecking at something so roundly praised can sound like pure contrarianism but Whiplash really isn't a glistening nugget of spotless perfection and it falls to the sturdy independent reviewer to point that out. If it was reaching for a wee bit of subversion in the midst of all those band aids and sweaty deference, it ended up punking out, and for the worst reason- a tidy denouement, the restoration of an equilibrium without ever seriously questioning the value of that balance. Which is why I regard it as something lying a little south of brilliant. It did make me sit through a fucking lengthy freestyle drum solo, though, and for that reason alone I look forward to Chazelle's future work.