By Jonathan Minnema
The road to greatness is less like a road and more like a well-toned, middle-aged bald man who hurls chairs and wears black. Terrance Fletcher, the bald man (J.K. Simmons), teaches at the prestigious New York City Shaffer Conservatory of Music. Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) aches to play for Fletcher’s best-in-the-country studio band, as does every other student who attends Shaffer. But will his drive to become one of the great drummers of all time crash him into insanity?
As the movie opens, Andrew sits at a drumset. He tightens the cymbals, dusts off his snare, and hammers away. Fletcher, overhearing him, grants him an audition, yet walks out in the middle. Andrew fails. The film begins. Will Andrew, discouraged by his failure, drift through his music career content with “great,” or will he rise above to become one of the greats? This question hits him like a steady beat throughout the film. Just when Andrew thinks he has overcome, he fails (at least in the eyes of his teacher) and so pushes himself on to further greatness. Yet as greatness increases like a drumroll, his life begins to roll away.
This decay of his life bleeds through the film in Andrew’s practice sessions. In the beginning, he plays like one would think a jazz drummer would play. He moves his head with the beat, sways, and makes viewers want to jump on a drumset. As his practice sessions continue, he moves his bed into his practice room, grimaces, sweats, and bleeds through the layers of Band-Aids plastered on his blistered hands. The last practice session shows the plummet his sanity has taken at the reward of greatness. He curses constantly, erratically. His face contorts more than a saxophone. He even punches straight through his snare. Greatness cost Andrew his sanity.
Jonathan Minnema is a graduate student at Dallas Theological Seminary. He works for Authenticity Book House as an editor and writer.