JK Simmons’s award-winning performance in Whiplash can now be watched on Hulu. He played the vicious jazz instructor Terence Fletcher, taking out all his aggressions on the student band of the Shaffer Conservatory. His explosive anger made for a film that’s hard to forget.
Although JK Simmons steals the show, the film’s central figure is Andrew Neiman, played by Miles Teller. He’s an aspiring jazz musician, hoping to become successful at the conservatory. Even though he’s devoted, he’s not ready for the terror of Fletcher.
Whiplash, starring JK Simmons and Miles Teller, is streaming on Hulu.
Simmons’s performance as Fletcher is incredibly intimidating. He plays a mean-spirited teacher who bubbles with rage as he strives for perfection. His practice sessions become intense, where it’s common to see chairs fly.
The most unsettling scene is when Simmons gets right up in the face of Teller. Demanding speed and tempo, Fletcher screams in the face of the young student. He constantly asks the fearful student if he is rushing or dragging, demanding answers quickly.
The film showcases how the student-teacher relationship can become toxic when striving for greatness. The further that Andrew devotes himself to jazz, the worse it gets. His hands bleed, he leaves his girlfriend, and desperation eventually leads to a car crash, all over trying to become a jazz legend.
Miles Teller also delivers one of the finest performances of his career. The drumming he performs in the film is mostly genuine, as he’d been drumming since he was a teenager.
Whiplash was one of the first big films for writer/director Damien Chazelle. He had previously directed Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench and written scripts for The Last Exorcism Part II and Grand Piano. He also developed Whiplash as a short film in 2013 before expanding it into a feature film in 2014, starring JK Simmons in the same role.
Chazelle strived for the finest of performances and reactions within the film. When discussing the role with Simmons, the director told the actor, “I don’t want to see a human being on-screen anymore. I want to see a monster, a gargoyle, an animal.”
If the reactions to the fuming teacher seem accurate, it’s because the students were accurately cast. Many of them were real-life musicians or music students. Their anxiety was probably too real when facing a music teacher from hell.
Simmons launches himself so deep into this role it’s enough to make one wonder if he acts like this regularly. There’s no worry about him becoming overwhelmed with method acting, though. Chazelle had noted that in between the vicious scenes, Simmons was a sweet guy. You can see shades of that sweetness when Fletcher later speaks softly to a little girl.
Miles Teller also delivers one of the finest performances of his career. The drumming he performs in the film is mostly genuine, as he’d been drumming since he was a teenager. He also received some extra drumming instruction from jazz drummer Nate Lang, who, ironically, plays Andrew’s rival in the film.
If the focus on jazz seems similar to Chazelle’s next hit film, La La Land, that’s no coincidence. The writer/director has admitted that he was trying to sell La La Land and wrote Whiplash out of his frustrations to get it off the ground.
That frustration helped launch his next movie and his legacy as a notable director. Whiplash dominated awards season, garnering several nominations and wins. Notable among those wins is the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (JK Simmons) and Best Sound Editing.
Among all the awards, the stand-out was Best Supporting Actor. Simmons would win awards from the British Academy Film Awards, Sundance Film Festival, and several critics groups. It’s undoubtedly the actor’s most iconic role.
The film was also a hit financially. Costing only $3.3 million to make, the praise and awards attention led to the film making $49 million. That success helped raise the budgets for his future projects.
Damien Chazelle After Whiplash
Soon after Whiplash, Chazelle would make his dreams come true of developing 2016’s La La Land, proving to be just as much of a hit with plenty of accolades and box office. The success led to him having more freedom with his next films: 2018’s First Man and 2022’s Babylon.
Chazelle has relied on Justin Hurwitz throughout his films to compose the score. The composer has done an ample job of bringing Chazelle’s obsession and love of jazz to the big screen, with Babylon proving to be a real banger.
So, before the chaos of Babylon and the retro musical flair of La La Land, there was the riveting drama of Whiplash, a little $3.3 million film that stunned. Watch it to see a side of JK Simmons that goes far beyond his persons of grumpy dad, weary detective, or the spirited J. Jonah Jameson.