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The Whale (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

THE WHALE (2022)

Starring Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton, Sathya Sridharan and Jacey Sink.

Screenplay by Samuel D. Hunter.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Distributed by A24. 117 minutes. Rated R.

Sometimes the lead performance in a film is just so good, so brave and so selfless that you are willing to overlook the flaws in the film. Well, Brendan Fraser is worthy of Oscar buzz for his performance as Charlie, a morbidly obese man who is trying to hide from the world and his own mortality in his tiny two-bedroom apartment. However, despite its obvious awards-season aspirations, the rest of The Whale does not quite live up to its central performance.

Director Darren Aronofsky has a history of taking actors who are a bit past their prime and giving them amazing showcases to remind people of their talents – see also: Jennifer Connelly’s drug-addled stripper in Requiem for a Dream and Mickey Rourke’s down and out palooka in The Wrestler.

Fraser has been slowly regaining some of the buzz he once had in the last few years, and The Whale will only help – showing him to be willing to do most anything for a role (he’s wearing a huge amount of prosthetics and padding to add hundreds of pounds to his frame) and also remind us of the actor’s sweet amiability which does shine through all of the makeup.

You can truly believe that Fraser is trying to understand and have sympathy for his extremely flawed character. Sadly, you don’t always get that feeling from the film itself. In fact, The Whale often seems to be judging Charlie’s unwise life decisions. And perhaps Charlie even needs some judging, but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit through.

Just take the title – The Whale. Now, okay, there is a recurring theme where Charlie – who is an English professor who teaches virtually (with his camera off) – discusses Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and the whale, and the film seems to be suggesting that is the reason for the title. However no one really will think of Moby Dick when they hear the name.

The Whale is based upon a play and to a large extent you can feel it. The film all takes place in Charlie’s apartment (except for a couple of scenes which take place on the porch of the place and a few short flashbacks). There are essentially six characters in the whole film (not counting Charlie’s students who only appear on a Zoom screen and add little to the storyline).

This makes the performances of great importance, and for the most part they are up to the need, nearly matching Fraser’s searing performance. Particularly good is Hong Chau (who was also just very good in a very different type of role in The Menu) as Charlie’s only friend. She is a nurse who knows that he is dying (due to his weight he has congestive heart failure) and tries to get him to go to the hospital and to care for himself – and yet she also enables him by constantly bringing him food.

Sadie Sink (of Stranger Things) is also very good as his estranged daughter, who is carrying the anger of Charlie leaving her and her mother eight years earlier for a male lover to an almost pathological extent.

However, for however good that Fraser is in the role, watching The Whale is essentially watching a man committing suicide – he’s literally eating himself to death. While he may have had a tragic life – his one true love died, being estranged from his ex-wife and daughter – the audience still wants to shake the guy and make him go to the damned hospital.

No one will ever mistake The Whale for an enjoyable experience. It is horribly melancholy and heartbreaking. However, Fraser does give the film the kind of humanity that it doesn’t always achieve otherwise. It’s worth seeing if only for that incredible performance.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: December 7, 2022.


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