I Finally Watched Whiplash (2014)
Are you rushing or are you dragging?
Welcome to Movie Star March Madness, our month-long watch-a-long and countdown to Season 2 of The Vince Vaughn-a-thon. Every day in March, we’re celebrating a different actor, movie star, or famous family - one of which will be our focus for Season 2. Play along with us and leave your daily reviews in the comments. For the full schedule and info, read here.
Patrick: Taylor, it's so exciting to start Movie Star March Madness with J.K. Simmons and his Oscar-winning performance in Whiplash. You long ago told me that he was one of your favorite actors and I know that Damien Chazelle's debut feature has been at the top of your watchlist for a while, so I'd love to hear about your expectations going into this first-time watch for you.
Taylor: J.K. Simmons is one of my favorites! I have loved him in many things, but most fondly, Juno, where he just shines. I always find that his performances are so caring, nuanced, and authentic. When Whiplash first came out, the buzz was really unbelievable, but even more unbelievable is that the buzz has sustained! People still love, celebrate, and speak highly of this movie all the time, so expectations were really soaring on that alone. I also, of course, knew how iconic J.K.'s performance was meant to be, so that added to it. AND, contrary to many other people's feelings, I really liked La La Land. Needless to say, I had the highest of expectations.
Patrick: Did it live up to those expectations? Some of that hype probably comes from me as well, as I've long been a proponent of this one. It's just memorable moment after memorable moment. All of that led, of course, by J.K.
Taylor: It really did. I'm so happy that J.K. was finally trusted with a performance like that, and he got his flowers! How special. I can't believe he hasn't been booked and busy since then. I'm not the biggest Miles Teller fan for the sole fact that he creeped me the fuck out in the Divergent series as a kid, but Top Gun: Maverick and my recent watch of this have really started turning that around. Their chemistry in this is incredible. Every moment is so palpable and tense. You hadn't seen this in a while, does it still hold up just as much as you remember?
Patrick: For those that don't know, Whiplash follows Andrew Neiman (Teller - who I like to pretend gives me the ick, but in fact, I really like him in everything), a first-year conservatory drummer who is quickly recruited to the school's top jazz ensemble by dictator conductor Terence Fletcher (Simmons). What follows is basically Simmons making his life a living hell ("Now, are you a rusher, or are you a dragger, or are you going to be on my fuckng time?!"), a film about the balance between dedication and obsession, and, of course, Chazelle's favorite thing: a movie about jazz starring only white people. I have to be honest, I was a bit scared to revisit this one. I loved it when it hit theaters a decade ago (I was working at an indie theatre at the time and it was all the rage), but Chazelle's last three efforts have had diminishing returns for me. I feel like he's become the worst version of himself, while Whiplash remains his best attempt at the themes he loves most: ambition, excess, and the price of greatness. A lot of that, however, is thanks to the brilliant Simmons in the very definition of a supporting performance.
Taylor: I completely agree. There's a lot that I respected about Babylon - pulling off a movie like that is no simple feat. It was maybe the biggest picture I've ever seen and it felt never-ending. I couldn't believe how the money continued to stretch! That said, there is something about honesty and authenticity that gets lost behind glitz and glamour that really shines in movies like this one. This is a masterclass in dutiful character work. Maybe this speaks to my background in theatre (and low-budget theatre on top of that), but it reinforces the fact that sometimes all you need is great actors. When you have that, the rest doesn't truly matter. I'm not saying they can't coexist. I actually just wrote about that skillful coexistence in Marie Antoinette coming later this month. Still, I love a good, raw character-driven performance.
Patrick: Where does this rank among your favorite J.K. performances?
Taylor: Objectively, it's probably at the top. Subjectively, it's second to Juno. That said, he's in so many movies I love, and I think he is an expert at making a short moment or scene memorable. Burn After Reading for example - he gets less than five minutes of screen time, and he's incredible! So funny! So strong and objective!
Patrick: Growing up a Spider-Man kid, I'm partial to his J. Jonah Jameson, but this is probably his best. It's amazing that it hasn't gotten stale after all this time. I feel like a bunch of stuff from this time (like our recent rewatch of Ben Affleck in Argo) gets really gooby over time. This has aged like fine wine. Like Simmons himself, who understood that going bald early makes you look the same age forever. As a soon-to-be bald man, I appreciate him as a role model.
Taylor: God, he really is so handsome, isn't he? I have always thought he was gorgeous. I know that's probably an unpopular opinion, but something about him is so... dare I say, SEXY! And in Whiplash he's ripped as hell which makes him even sexier. I'm so finally we finally got around to this one, and I'm looking forward to more opportunities for him to shine in the future. (P.S. I feel like he could be really great on the stage... can someone make that happen, please?)
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