Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash centers on a young drummer at a prestigious Manhattan music academy who finds a caustic instructor willing to do anything to urge him toward greatness. This may sound like the beginning of a sentimental, feel-good movie in which encouragement and perseverance win out. But Chazelle’s character study isn’t in the least bit evocative of Mr. Holland’s Opus or Stand and Deliver. Instead, the unrelenting verbal abuse heaped on the student vacillates between hilarious and needlessly demeaning. The ceaseless degradation creates a gray area of quasi-fulfillment where the cinematic rewards are anything but pure. Whiplash keeps the audience on its toes, never letting you think for a moment that the road to artistic success is easy or that one’s competition isn’t eagerly awaiting your total failure for their gain.
So intertwined are Ben (John Lithgow) and George’s (Alfred Molina) lives in Ira Sachs’ new movie Love Is Strange that everything is completely changed by the absence of one another. Uncannily reminiscent of Leo McCarey’s depression era film Make Way for Tomorrow about an elderly couple forced to live apart by bankruptcy, Love Is Strange echoes that story in many ways but adds modern relevance by making the couple gay and the cause of their separation rooted in homophobic discrimination. At the cost of plausibility it lamentably shoots itself in the foot so that it can stay located in Manhattan but through virtue of the talent on hand it is still able to create piteous moments of longing for a hard won happily ever after that’s been unceremoniously cut short.