Film / Drumline

"One band. One Sound."

A 2002 comedy-drama film directed by Charles Stone III, starring Nick Cannon and Orlando Jones.

Devon Miles (Cannon) is a talented, but cocky freshman drummer for the marching band at the fictional college Atlanta A&T. Devon is recruited by band director Dr. Lee who sees his talent while scouting. His self important attitude puts him at odds with upperclassman and section leader Sean Taylor. The band director, Dr. Lee (Jones), struggles with whether Devon's talent outweighs the damage his behavior brings to the band.

This film provides examples of:

  • Achilles' Heel: Devon can't read music.
  • Artistic License – Music: The printed music that comes out of a snare drum solo in the middle of the movie has sharps and flats, despite the fact that a snare drum has only one note (roughly, "bang"). Besides the "bang," (notated with a note) there are also flams (where both sticks hit the drum at the same speed with one slightly higher than the other; notated with one grace note to another note), double strokes (where two notes are played in one hand throughout the duration of the beat specified; notated with a slash through the note's stem), rim shots (where the shoulder of the stick hits the rim at the same time as the tip of the stick hitting the head; notated with an x on the line where notes are), and many other notations which do not use sharps or flats.
    • Perhaps more importantly, there is no such magical computer program that transcribes your playing onto paper. At least, not one that works.
  • Author Appeal: In-canon; Lee refuses to let the band play music other than the old-school stuff he likes, even risking the band over it. He eventually learns to compromise.
  • Author Avatar: The story, and Devon's character, are both based off of music director Dallas Austin.
  • Beta Couple: Deidre and Ernest.
  • Break the Haughty: Devon thinks the entire band should revolve around him solely on his talent. He has a rough time learning that that will only get him so far.
  • Broken Pedestal: Mr. Wade is Dr. Lee's former teacher despite their philosophical differences and contemporary rivalry. This leads to Calling the Old Man Out.
  • Challenging the Chief: Devon attempts to do this when he wins a contest with Sean over who can play the longest while making eye contact. Dr. Lee instead calls him out for being a Jerk Ass and then beats him in turn.
  • The Chick: Deidre.
  • Disappeared Dad: Though he is proud of Devon's accomplishments and sends him a selection of his own drumming when he's down.
  • Down to the Last Play: The tie at the competition is broken with a showdown of the two drumlines.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Jayson feels betrayed when his roommate challenges him for his P2 position.
  • Fanservice: The scantily-clad dancers in the BET Classic are shown gratuitously during the trailer.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a band movie, crossed with a sports movie!
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Devon shows up Sean many times during the first act of the film due to his natural talent despite Sean being older and more experienced. The downside to this is that Devon is initially a showboating jerk who thinks about his own glory more than the good of the band. Dr. Lee eventually snaps him out of it by making him go home and learn how to really play the drums via sheet music.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Several.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Sean.
  • Heel Realization: Sean realizes that there's ultimately no point in antagonizing Devon. Dr. Lee eventually calls him on his spiteful behavior, implying that he's intimidated by Devon instead of trying to help him. This leads to Sean taking a more of a relaxed mentor role toward Devon, allowing the latter to see the value of learning music.
  • Honor Before Reason: Dr. Lee prioritizes education in his band program over entertainment. This has put the school on a losing streak in band competitions and the president is not happy about it.
  • Jerk Ass: Devon, initially.
    • As was Sean, who let being section leader go to his head.
    • Not to mention Mr. Wade for flattering Devon to try to get him to transfer just so he can get inside information for the Classic.
  • Just Like Making Love:
    Shaun: Playing the drums... it's like making love. You can't keep looking down and seeing what's going on down there.
  • Monochrome Casting: All main characters of the film are black except for Jayson. There are also only two or three non-African American background characters in the entire band. The movie is set at an Expy of a historically black college.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Perhaps the most common reaction to the film is "Gee, who knew that marching bands were the most badass thing ever?"
  • The Rival: Sean to Devon.
    • The Morris Brown College Marching Band is this to Atlanta A&T.
    • And Dr. Lee to Mr. Wade.
  • Second-Act Breakup
  • Serious Business: Bands, though it's not much of an exaggeration. Also, "musicianship."
    • An amusing shot early in the film pans across each section of the band, with each section leader emphatically explaining why their section is the most important.
      • Truth in Television. Percussion keeps the beat, low brass/woodwinds are the root and backbone of the band, high woodwinds do all the crazy fast stuff, and high brass handles those huge impacts and high notes... and each section knows they're the most important.
  • Shout-Out: The band plays the epic "King's Motorcade" from Coming to America in a scene, with Dr. Lee's appropriately commanding presence as conductor.
  • Shown Their Work: Though there's plenty of Artistic License – Music in the cadences and techniques, the way the band is run, and life on it, is pretty spot-on to life on a real marching band. This crosses into Genius Bonus territory when Dr. Lee absolutely insists on Devon being able to read sheet music. Why is that? Because marching band sheet music is designed with extreme precision; it is a very complex notation that keeps the individual carefully choreographed with his section mates, and helps keep the section timed with the rest of the band. That's triply important in a drumline, which keeps the beat for the entire band. Devon may not need to read music to learn his cadences, but he absolutely must be able to do so to make sure his playing matches up with everyone else in the band - right from the start of the learning curve. Until he can read music, he can never be a team player - literally.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Devon's primary character flaw, though he does mature.
  • The Stoic: Dr. Lee.
  • Token White: Jayson. Lampshaded with his nickname "Affirmative Action".
  • Took a Level in Badass: Devon, believe it or not, once he finally puts aside his grudge against the world (and Shawn!) and starts learning to be a disciplined member of the band. In the drumline-duel at the end, he and Shawn together lead the line flawlessly, and he doesn't so much as twitch when Morris Brown tries to taunt him into a reaction by banging on A&T's drums. That unflinching discipline in the face of Morris Brown's classlessness likely won them the duel, and the competition.
    • Well, he twitches a little, but not nearly as badly as earlier in the film when he gets into a fistfight during a competition.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Devon knows full well that he's the most talented drummer at A&T, and assumes that his talent will enable him to get away with as much jackassery as he wants. He's right about the first part, but painfully wrong about the second. While being The Prima Donna might fly if he were a professional musician playing in a rock band or a jazz band, those same rules don't apply in a university marching band, where cooperation and teamwork matter more than anything else.