(director/writer: Damien Chazelle; cinematographer: Sharone Meir; editor: Tom Cross; music: Justin Hurwitz; cast: Miles Teller (Andrew Neyman), J. K. Simmons (Terence Fletcher), Melissa Benoist (Nicole), Paul Reiser (Jim), Austin Stowell (Ryan), Nate Lang (Carl), Max Kasch (Dorm Neighbor), Damon Gupton (Mr. Kramer); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jason Blum/Helen Estabrook/David Lancaster/Michel Litvak; Sony Pictures Classics; 2014)
“Could have easily been a sports film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A Sundance favorite, meaning it’s a populist film. The theme covers the challenges of being a musician as if the music field is related to the art of warfare. An aspiring jazz drummer prodigy, Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), is roughly challenged by his terrifying mentor, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music in Manhattan, to be the best he can be or leave his group. In true sports film formula fashion, the kid comes through in the clutch in the Manhattan jazz concert piece at the climax. The pic could have easily been a sports film.
The 29-year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle (“Guy and Medeline on a Park Bench”), in his second jazz-themed film, aims to bring new light to the musical-prodigy experience as he covers the teacher’s tough love bullying sessions with the prodigy. The teacher’s abusive mentoring can be compared to the monster drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket. The agenda invested pic rigs the action to make its point that giving your all for art is sometimes questionable if it can destroy you.
In the finale, don’t act surprised that the troubled student rises to the big sports-like occasion to hit the ball out of the park for a walk-off win despite being verbally abused by his teacher. I found its lecture points over this messy scenario hollow and hardly compelling, but was impressed with the drumming and how physically strenuous it is.
The hard-nosed demanding jazz instructor at the fictitious elite conservatory, modeled after Julliard, Terence Fletcher, tells his deflated Buddy Rich idolizing drummer student, Andrew Neyman, that in aiming for greatness “there are no two words in the English language more harmful than goodjob.”
There’s a relentless stream of pearls of wisdom coming from the ruthless conductor, someone whose sanity should be challenged because of his volatile anti-social actions. Teach seemingly knows only one way of teaching and motivating his students– through the use of fear. The so-called great teacher (someone with obvious psychological problems) seems to think that you can teach everyone the same way and that overcoming fear of failure is the great motivational tool to reach the top of your craft.
In the subplot, the shy 19-year-old Andrew shows a romantic interest in Nicole (Melissa Benoist). She’s the attractive, vulnerable concession-counter gal at his neighborhood movie theater who is bullied by him and dumped when he deems that his career is more important than romance.
I was confused about what I was supposed to get out of this film. If it’s meant as a lesson about the dangers of one blindly sacrificing his life for a career or a warning of the dangers of capitulating to a monster teacher just because he can advance your career, then so be it. However, its strained story never was music to my ears.
REVIEWED ON 7/20/2015 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/