Film Review: “The Whale”



  • Starring: Brendan Fraser and Hong Chau
  • Directed by Darren Aronofsky
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 27 mins
  • A24
A box office star in the 1990s and into the 2000s, Brendan Fraser seemingly disappeared in recent years even though he continued to find work. Of course, this thread was discussed ad nauseum during the months leading up to the recent Academy Awards where Fraser’s years of hard work paid off with his own golden statue. It was much deserved for Fraser’s memorable role in the depressing drama “The Whale” is not only the best performance of his career but one of the greatest ever captured in cinema.
Now available everywhere, “The Whale,” based upon a 2012 play of the same name, revolves around Charlie (Fraser), a morbidly obese English instructor who teaches online writing courses with the camera turned off. A complete recluse, his only friend and caregiver is a gruff nurse named Liz (Hong Chau, “The Menu”). She repeatedly tries to get Charlie to see a doctor for his congestive heart failure, but it’s clear early on that he wants to die. His reasoning, though, is a mystery until later in the story.
On one random day, he is visited by Thomas (Ty Simpkins, “Iron Man 3,” “Jurassic World”), a young Christian missionary who tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Charlie that his soul needs saving. What Charlie wants to save instead is his relationship with his estranged and moody teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink, “Stranger Things”). She wants nothing to do with him because Charlie had abandoned her and her mother (Samantha Morton) to be with another man.
Knowing that death is coming, something he seems to welcome, Charlie bribes Ellie to start visiting him by promising to help her with schoolwork and the prospect of $120,000 going into her bank account. For her part, Ellie is asked not to tell her mother about her visits. As his health deteriorates more rapidly, Charlie’s desire to salvage his relationship with Ellie intensifies.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler,” “Pi”), “The Whale” often feels too much like a stage play and it comes off disjointed at times as a result. Aronofsky gets the most out of his cast, yet the story is a little too blah, which matches the overall feel of the film. All quibbles aside, what must be looked upon with awe is Fraser’s unforgettable performance. Forget about his wearing a 300-pound suit to reflect his character’s obesity. What’s important is how tragically sad and depressed his self-loathing character is. Fraser makes his character’s despair and desires tangible to the viewer, allowing us to easily become emotionally invested into Charlie. Without his towering performance, “The Whale” would have been something long forgotten about by now.
Overall, “The Whale” is watchable because of Fraser’s one-for-the-ages performance.
“The Whale” receives three stars out of five.

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