Pacquiao fan Miles Teller plays a determined underdog in ‘Whiplash’

By Wendell Gaa

On Jan. 23, I had the honor to join my fellow co-members of the New York Fil-Am Press Club at the premiere evening release of the film documentary “Manny” at the AMC Times Square theaters in Manhattan.

I was impressed and deeply touched by the documentary about the amazing rise of our national boxing champion Manny Pacquiao from his humble beginnings in the Philippines to the current athletic superstar celebrity status which he now so deservedly enjoys.

The following night, I had returned to the same cinema house to watch the Oscar-nominated movie “Whiplash,” starring Hollywood actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. You may ask what exactly do these two films have in common, aside from the fact that I watched them within the same cinema building in the same weekend. Well it just so happens that Miles Teller is a huge fan of Pacquiao.

After seeing “Whiplash,” my curiosity drew me to research online the backstory interviews of the film’s stars, and it just so happened that I came across this ABS-CBN interview of Teller explaining how he drew inspiration in his life and film acting from Pacquiao, and how he loved and admired him, even describing how Pacquiao’s training gym was literally right across the street from where he was preparing for filming and that he would go see Manny train as a means to inspire himself to rise up to any challenge as an actor and beyond.

Teller is perhaps best known to young audiences as a cast member of the increasingly popular “Divergent” film series, but if you really want to appreciate his dramatic acting abilities in full scope, “Whiplash” is the film to watch.

“Whiplash” concerns the story of student jazz drummer prodigy Andrew Neiman (Teller) who joins a conservatory music school to learn to expand his abilities to its fullest. His teacher is the tyrannical conductor Terrence Fletcher (Simmons), who employs very controversial methods in coaching his students through yelling, cursing, slapping and even throwing chairs. Any viewer would be dumbstruck to think that a majority of Fletcher’s jazz students actually choose to sit in and endure his frequent outbursts, but Neiman in particular is so obsessed with his goal to become a professional jazz artist in the same light as Buddy Rich and Louis Armstrong that he is willing to go the distance, and more.

The film’s plot revolves heavily around Neiman’s attempts to impress Fletcher, as well as the physical and emotional toll which his music schooling eventually takes on his personal relationships with his family and girlfriend. What I found really astonishing was how despite the constant mental abuse which Fletcher throws down on Neiman, or maybe even because of it, Andrew is not only “not discouraged” to drop out of the music conservatory school, but is even more driven and hell-bent to become the best jazz drummer he could possibly be, in more ways than even he himself could have ever imagined.

When the film advances to a stage (literally and metaphorically) where Neiman and Fletcher gradually come to heads, I personally couldn’t help but sense how for all the heated animosity which these two individuals have for each other, they actually have a lot more in common than either one of them is willing to admit. This is shown through their mutual love for jazz music and divine regard for history’s legendary jazz musicians, which are ironically the emotional catalysts to their respective erratic behaviors in pushing friends and loved ones away. One can argue that Teller is in essence the student version of Fletcher.

I enjoyed “Whiplash” and definitely rank it as one of my surprise favorite films of 2014. Given its tough competition in the Oscar race this year, facing off against the likes of such critical favorites as “Boyhood” and “Birdman,” as well as its rather low-key indie movie feeling, the chances of “Whiplash” bagging the Best Picture award seem pretty slim.

Although if there is one award which the film definitely deserves to snatch, it is for J.K. Simmons as Best Supporting Actor, whose performance as the volatile Terrence Fletcher is energetically superb and at certain moments, even darkly humorous. If there is any hopeful indication, his recent win of a Screen Actor Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor should be it.

Miles Teller however also holds his own as an actor impressively well here, and I’m so glad to see that he is not turning out to be a mere Hollywood “teenage heartthrob” as evident in his emotionally charged and sympathetic performance.

Together with Simmons, Teller carries much of the film’s weight and to see him evolve into the intensely determined drummer that we see later in the film is a fascinating and riveting experience altogether. I’m so proud to know of Pacquiao’s inspirational connection to Teller, and it just feels plain good that another up-and-coming star has joined the growing ranks of Hollywood fandom of our beloved boxing champion.

Go see “Whiplash” for yourself and observe Teller exert his Pacquiao-inspired role, an underdog defying expectations.

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