Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons do some unconventional teacher-student bonding.

Damien Chazelle (USA, Special Presentations)
stars 3andahalf9

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash made waves when it debuted earlier this year at Sundance, and despite its prickliness relative to the fest’s usual sunny hits, it’s not hard to see why. Starring Miles Teller as a jazz drum prodigy enrolled in a prestigious college music program and J.K. Simmons as his obscenely cruel conductor and teacher who will either bring out his artistic genius or ruin him personally and professionally, the film is an unsentimental, feverishly entertaining concoction that never quite decides whether it’s a thriller or a straight drama.

Teller and Simmons are so good and Chazelle is so brave to push away nearly everything in their periphery during their claustrophobic scenes together that it’s a real disappointment whenever the film settles into humdrum material about the difficulties of dating while pursuing one’s artistic dream, the irritations of having a family that just doesn’t understand, and so on. At its best, however, as in the truly strange final concert set piece, Whiplash becomes pure spectacle.

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