Everyone who has ever had a specific teacher at school that they wanted to impress has probably experienced it at some point in their life. Back when I wanted to take music at school as a 16-year-old boy, I walked up to the head of the Music department to ask him if I could have a spot in his class. He took one look at me and knew I couldn’t read music. He instantly thought I was just a silly boy with dreams of playing guitar in a Rock band and quite bluntly said no.
On the surface level J.K Simmons’ character in this film ‘Terrence Fletcher’ represents all of the teachers that you could never be good enough for. It’s also a film about perseverance. I went and took a Business class that I hated instead of showing that music teacher how much I deserved to be in the class. Terrence Fletcher is the teacher of a Jazz group at a university, and he takes on aspiring 19-year-old drummer called Andrew. Before his first practice he tells him the story of how a young Charlie Parker once had a cymbal launched at his head for doing his own solo during a performance; devastated Parker left and then came back a year later and performed one of the best Sax solos the world had ever seen. On Andrew’s first practice with the band he ends up getting a chair thrown at his head. Fletcher is probably one of the biggest bullies ever to be put onto the screen; a teacher that resembles R.Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, a teacher that manages to push his students near to insanity to get the best results out of them.
The tension created when Simmons is on-screen border-lines on being unbearable; you’re either waiting for him to flip or brilliantly watching him spew some of the most disgusting language at our protagonist. It’s funny that we as an audience naturally feel so sorry for Andrew when it’s happening to him even though most of his time on-screen is spent being a complete douche-bag. He neglects his new girlfriend, he forgets about his Father, and as it is pointed out in the film he has no friends. The film goes out of it’s way to make him un-likeable and doesn’t actually give us much back story about the characters around him at all. This is all simply to hammer home the question; how far is too far when going for your dream? How much do you have to sacrifice? It’ll make you question your own beliefs on happiness, success, and make you appreciate how much work it takes to become ‘One of the greats’.
For people who love music, this film puts your ideologies to the test in terms of what’s more important? Perfectionism or just pure passion? After well over an hour of seeing musicians pretty much being tortured there is moment where we see a man banging on some buckets in the street and it feels incredibly refreshing to see someone having fun playing an instrument. But then at the same time Fletcher offers up some thoughts on how it’s this ideology that’s killing Jazz, and why we have no great Jazz players any more. When Andrew tells his family that he’s entering a music competition one of his cousins replies with ‘How can you have a music competition? Isn’t it all subjective?’ to which Andrew simply replies with a look of contempt on his face ‘…No’.
Even Though Simmons performance in this film takes the most impressive by far, Teller does a damn good job of playing Andrew. In preparation for this film Teller spent four hours a day for two months learning to play the drums, and it pays off so well especially with the incredible cinematography and editing that makes the drumming look excruciatingly painful to play at times. This film has so many twists and completely defies what you would expect from a student/mentor film time and time again with Damien Chazelle’s way of storytelling being captivating. By the time it gets to the absolutely spellbinding finale trying to work out the character’s motives based purely on facial expressions alone making it so ambiguous becomes part of the fun. This film is well and truly up for interpretation as to what you can take from it in terms of music and morals, but whatever you do take from it at the end, it’s an exhilarating journey.