There are multiple reasons why Whiplash comes to the Toronto International Film Festival with palpable anticipation. The film was showcased at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it went on to both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize award for best dramatic film. Actor Miles Teller was recently named as one of Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch and J.K. Simmons, well, he’s J.K. freakin’ Simmons. So the gathering audience at the afternoon screening was primed, ready and eager for the expected greatness about to be screened.
Whiplash stars Miles Teller as Andrew Neyman, a determined 19-year-old drummer who is pushed to his emotional limits by his new instructor Terence (J.K. Simmons). Terence has a reputation for being the best, but mentoring under his tutelage comes at a price. Terrence is no Mr. Miyagi. He is ruthless in his barrage of verbal sewage that attempts to push his students towards the greatness he believes they can achieve. Newcomer Andrew is no spared his ire as evidenced in this heated reaction when Andrew can’t find Terence’s tempo, , “Were you rushing or were you dragging? If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will gut you like a pig. Oh my dear God – are you one of those single tear people? You are a worthless pancy-ass who is now weeping and slobbering all over my drumset like a nine year old girl!” There is no “Wash-on, Wash-off” PG-ness here.
Being mean is in Terence’s nature. And his assault on his young protégés is sometimes hard to watch. Think of Gunnery Sargent Hartman in Full Metal Jacket and imagine the persistent yelling and abuse for an entire film. Throughout, Andrew remains resilient. His goal to become a drummer of future legend has him shun friends and family. He’s all alone and the uncomfortable Terence bond that he creates is all that he has.
Audiences will be unsure of where Whiplash is headed. Are we headed for a triumphant climax where the drill sergeant-esque nature of the instructor pays off in a musical crescendo closing that brings audiences to their feet? Or will the pressure and barrage of verbal bullying take effect with a shocking tragedy that spotlights the harassment of our children. Be sure, this is no Mr. Holland’s Opus and the hate and evil that Terence employs travels from opening to closing credits without reprieve.
Writer-director Damien Chazelle does a stunning job of keeping us on the edge of our seats wondering when or if a climatic breakdown will occur. We watch in awe as Andrew gets pushed and pushes himself until his hands bleed after hours of relentless play. We feel as uncomfortable for his situation as we feel trapped in finding a solution to Andrew’s goal.
The concluding act only further exemplifies the events and personalities that took us to the stage and the audience cheered in Andrew’s defiance while gasping at his situation.
The result is a fantastic film that is sure to be considered for Best Picture at next year’s Academy Award’s. It is a rousing crowd pleaser will have audiences clapping with hands they will want washed of Terence’s abuse. J.K. Simmons has the role he was meant to play and his character was not only brilliant but could rank as one of the best cinematic villains of all-time.