Whiplash opens with Andrew Neiman, a student practicing drums in an empty room at a prestigious New York music school. Terence Fletcher conducts a much sought after jazz band at the school, and offers Neiman a chance to join the band after observing him play. Fletcher’s instructions for arrival time turns out to be three hours before practice begins. It’s just one of a series of examples that reflect Fletcher’s domineering style of teaching where he taunts, ridicules, and humiliates his students to repeat notes until the quality of sound and rhythm is synchronized to his satisfaction. At the drop of a hat, Fletcher replaces musicians over the most minor errors intended to serve as motivation to push themselves beyond their limitations in pursuit of music. The students both respect and fear Fletcher, because his abusive tactics produce results.
Even though Neiman is the main character, it’s Fletcher’s influence over him that’s central to the story. And in this regard, J.K. Simmons gives an outstanding performance that is memorable.
Whiplash is an impressive film, but nevertheless it conjures up images of over-the-top parents acting out at their kids’ games and performances who would view the movie as justifying their incorrigible behavior in pursuit of rearing the next superstar. For all the characters involved in the story, the price to be paid in Whiplash seems to be worth it.