Day Nine: Whiplash (MotM 2017)

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Yet again, I’ve decided to try something a little more off-the-wall. Instead of focusing solely on the film for today, Whiplash, I’ve decided to compare it to another film also directed by Damien Chazelle: La La Land. Before that, some context.

Roughly a month ago, I was discussing La La Land with a friend of mine who had just seen it for the first time. She enjoyed it for the most part, but added that some scenes felt a little too “ordinary.” In a twisted form of foreshadowing, that statement would continuously play within my mind as I often thought back to my own thoughts of La La Land and how I almost wanted to agree with her, but never had a solid reason to do so. That is, until today, when I finished Whiplash, and my first thought became, “This is better than La La Land.” What makes this more interesting is that I’ve decided to rate this lower than I did La La Land, yet I still stand by my statement. So, what does this mean?

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There’s an noticeable distinction between these two films, La La Land and Whiplash. Both have a variety of similarities involving plot focuses, development of character, and use of camera. However, what’s different about these two films is the direction it takes to show a similar theme—one of following your dreams and the work it takes to make it a reality. This is the core of what I feel makes Whiplash better overall as a film, with La La Land becoming a bit of a hasty overrating.

Whiplash’s biggest strength is the passion of its characters. That fierceness and resolve that makes them almost superhuman in their desire for perfection. Everything that they embody is within their work and the sacrifices they’re willing to make to grow. It’s at times horrifying, suspenseful, riveting, and a combination of all and more, with a sense of insanity tinged in for extra kick. The level of competition one has with themselves to do everything they possibly can, even at the extent of their lives, both figuratively and literally, makes the film hard to tear one’s eyes away from. Like a machine, it runs fast and never slows down, efficiently making pace for an inevitable meltdown at the finish line. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons (especially) make this movie an absolutely joy to watch and Simmons absolutely, absolutely deserves the award he received for the film.

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La La Land takes the approach of following your dreams to a more “family-friendly” level. While not earnestly appealing to kids, it feels a little more interested in showing itself in a more light and fluffy manner. The homages to popular movies of old, the random flashy musical numbers, the emphasis on love and romance; it’s a more mainstream approach compared to Whiplash’s hard-nosed, gritty persona. It plays with the theme with dream sequences and songs with a personal touch. Characters, while not necessarily ending happily ever after, find success through the hardships. Almost every fiber of La La Land is humorous, charming, and uplifting, lounging upon the good vibes to carry the viewer into the world of Hollywood(‘s good side). It’s hard not to see it as, for lack of a better term, “soft” when compared side-by-side with Whiplash.

The debate from here becomes befuddled in subjective expectations: does one prefer the lighthearted, giddy naivety of La La Land? Or does Whiplash’s drill sergeant style of bombardment craft gold with its tight friction? At the time, I believed La La Land’s message and tone was carried almost perfectly, dividing the line between dream and reality for the sake of entertainment and symbolism. Although, Whiplash has a streamlined ferocity that tickles my fancy, as well. There’s a more tangible showing of the dream that I feel makes it a more gripping experience. Characters feel more like they own their identity as opposed to being keys to relating to the audience. In the end, Whiplash feels more credible as a character study and more believable with its showing of the sacrifices of achieving greatness.

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Even with the admission of my (likely) overrating of La La Land, both films are still very good and highly recommendable. Damien Chazelle is an up and coming director with a lot of potential for many great films within his lifetime, and with two hits already, one can count me as a new fan. He has a knack for finding the balance between reality and entertainment that makes the emotions involved in his films all the more gratifying. Whiplash is the better film in my eyes, with its focus on character and unabashed determination steamrolling La La Land’s dainty charm, but only for these things. It didn’t have the same impact on me as La La Land did upon completion, and that may be its one true flaw. It’s like a quick dose of heroin, one feels amazing while it lasts, then feels more normal than they did before. It absolutely achieves what it wants to do and nothing more.

Final Score: 8.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

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