Like the best independent movies, this one uses a small, tight story about music to tell a universal story about life. On one level, it’s the story of a first year student – a drummer – trying to find his place and make his way during his first year at a music academy. But, on so many other levels, it’s about the talent we have and what we do with it – and what it does to us; it’s about the discipline and courage it takes to be great in any field of endeavor — and the price we’re willing to pay for it. It’s intense, insightful, inspiring, maybe even fear-inducing. But, if you don’t like to see inspiration through intimidation, if you don’t want to see someone fully intimated and publicly humiliated, this is NOT the movie for you.
Andrew (Miles Teller) is a drummer who believes he has the talent to be great; Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is the angry, brilliant and abusive teacher who will drive Andrew to the edge of physical and mental exhaustion — and far beyond. Because, Fletcher will say, “there are no two words in the English language more destructive than ‘good job.’” Fletcher believes that once you’re satisfied, you’re finished. And he’s not finished – not now, not ever. Both Teller and Simmons disappear into their roles and play real human beings. These are searing, unforgettable, emotionally-draining performances, but there is impressive talent behind the screen as well. This movie was written and directed by Damien Chazelle, a 29-year old who shot this in nineteen days and put it together without a false note anywhere. This is a small movie, playing on only a few screens, but it’s one of my favorites of the year because of its intensity; but if “teaching by berating” upsets you, this movie will make you very uncomfortable indeed.