Ah, Whiplash. The dark horse of this year’s Oscars race. I watched this film without any expectations. (In fact, I’ve never heard of this film before the awards season buzz!) All I know about this film is the actor, Miles Teller, a bit familiar to my ears. Yes, he starred alongside Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now. Other than that, I didn’t know anything. After several high IMDb scores and a bit of persuasion from friends, I thought, oh well, I might give this a shot.
And dang, I was right.
If you’re thinking of watching a music (or music related) film, you might expect it to be tender, slow, beautiful, inspiring, and all those biopic film adjectives. This film will defy your expectations, and challenges all music film stereotypes. For starters, it tells about a jazz drum student (Miles Teller) in a prestigious music academy who’s discovered by a teacher (J.K. Simmons) who’s known to push his students to the limit. Or, to put it in a better way, sometimes, beyond the limits one can handle.
The high energy of this film is what the other Oscar nominees lack of. While you’re watching this, you might find yourself on the edge of your seats, or tapping your fingers in suspense, or finding yourself not bearing the situation, and without you knowing, it’s already half of the film. The acting skills of the two leads are remarkable. Especially Simmons. You know that a person’s a good actor if his character’s a total bastard you hate so much. Say, Joffrey Baratheon. Maybe looking at Jack Gleeson’s face would disgust some people just because of the atrocious acts of the illegitimate king. THAT’S when you know that the actor is doing his/her job. Same thing goes for Simmons, who portrays a highly unlikable Malcolm Tucker-esque mentor.
I personally think that Damien Chazelle, who directed this film, deserves Best Director more than Tyldum’s The Imitation Game or Linklater’s Boyhood. You know that a film is well directed when it is able to engage the audience, to feel the feelings the characters feel, and to set a tone to the film. Chazelle did all three. The film is set in a cutthroat, neckbreaking tone like how you would feel in a good jazz drum solo. Blood, sweat, and tears are building up amongst the film, and it’s hard to imagine a music film like that.
The plot’s three-act structure is quite visible, but what baffles me the most is how the film utilizes the three-act structure so it does not look boring, and fills it with twists and turns. To sum it up, this film makes the best out of the three-act structure. The film addresses complex topics such as motivation and practice, and the human ego’s strive to perfection. I would like to compare the film with Black Swan; especially, how the main characters are pushed by themselves and others to reach for the best in what they’re doing – and damaging themselves in the process. This idea can be summed up in the film’s end of the second act, which is a scene that will make you gasp, for sure.
Overall? Do not miss this film. With breakneck thrills, amazing directing, and provoking themes, this film will move you to the edge of your seats, and will make you rethink the common phrase “practice makes perfect”. If practice makes perfect, then, what is perfection? When will I reach it?