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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although Whiplash is a coming-of-age movie of sorts, it's also a searing, powerful, and -- for younger viewers -- possibly disturbing portrait of a talented young man under the tutelage of a brilliant but seemingly heartless mentor. The older man is smart and almost always right about his advice, but his tactics are brutal, from cruel name-calling (which involves tons of swearing, including "s--t," "f--k," a flurry of homophobic insults, and much more) to relentless nitpicking in his quest for perfection. Other issues to be aware of: There's a massive car accident that causes injuries, a student's suicide is mentioned, and the main character, Andrew, is so involved in his drumming that he literally draws blood. Clearly he's focused, and he works hard to achieve his goals, which is a strong example for teens -- just remind them not to lose themselves in the pursuit of perfection.
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What's the story?
In WHIPLASH, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a talented drummer -- talented enough to make it into Manhattan's prestigious music conservatory, Schaffer Academy. There's no bigger badge of approval at Schaffer than to be invited to join its elite jazz band, which is run by the tough and mysterious Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher has groomed some of jazz's best players, but pleasing him is a minefield. Fletcher's methods include -- among other, more traditional methods like pedagogy and charismatic history-sharing -- complete and utter humiliation. He's of the break-you-down-to-build-you-up (if at all) school of teaching. Andrew is thrilled to make the initial cut, but surviving Fletcher's class may break him, and his love for music, for good.
Is it any good?
Teller's total investment in his performance means viewers are no longer just viewers; we're also witnesses, and it's this intensity that makes writer-director Damien Chazelle's film so memorable. We pay little mind to its shortcomings: the unnecessary romance (which fails to flesh out Andrew but does expose his own cruelty) and the unfortunate impenetrability of Fletcher's (played brilliantly by Simmons) motives for his madness. Whiplash is both a refreshing, respectful ode to the beauty that is jazz music and a very compelling look at the horror that is a mentor-mentee relationship gone distressingly awry.
There's a particular scene in Whiplash when Andrew is hunched over the drums, aching to get through what may be the most important performance of his life. His hands are moving on their own steam, his body seized with tension and pain, his will driven to its limit. But he will not, he will not, he will not quit, and it's as if Teller has become his character, determined to make his mark with this movie, even if it kills him.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Andrew wants to work with Fletcher in Whiplash. Why do you think any of the kids yearn to be in his band when he's so hard to work with?
What's Whiplash's take on achievement and the road to success? Is it worth all the trouble? Fletcher makes great points about being complacent, but how does he cross the line?
Talk to your kids about what to look for in a mentor or a teacher. Is it OK for teachers to use unconventional tactics to motivate students? When should you worry -- and if that happens, what should you do?
- In theaters: October 10, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: February 24, 2015
- Cast: J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller
- Director: Damien Chazelle
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong language including some sexual references
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Common Sense Selection, Golden Globe
- Last updated: August 20, 2020
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