Starring Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau
Scott’s Review #1,328
Reviewed December 28, 2022
The Whale (2022) is the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker that I have been a big fan of since viewing the disturbing Requiem for a Dream in 2000. That film made me cringe and squirm in the best possible ways.
His knack for creating psychologically dark yet enthralling films continued with The Wrestler (2008), Black Swan (2010), and mother! (2017).
Any release by Aronofsky will be watched by yours truly though I am well aware I will likely leave the theater drawing deep breaths and trying not to feel disgusted. On the flip side, there is a good bet that I will feel titillated and secure that I have seen something with artistic distinction.
Not an easy watch, The Whale left me satisfied, in an Aronofsky way, but recognizing the overwhelming dirtiness and nastiness of the supporting characters and the pitiful nature of our protagonist, a good, decent guy.
Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is an obese, six-hundred-pound English teacher who makes his living teaching online classes from the safety of his meek apartment. Embarrassed by his weight he refuses to ever turn on his camera.
Racked with guilt over abandoning his family and grieving the loss of the male partner he left them for, Charlie is slowly eating himself to death. Over a week, he tries to find redemption when he reconnects with his angry teenage daughter.
He is cared for by a night nurse and the sister of his deceased partner named Liz (Hong Chau) while visited by a church missionary, Thomas (Ty Simpkins), and his estranged daughter Elle (Sadie Sink, and his ex-wife, Mary (Samantha Morton).
Let’s just give Brendan Fraser the Oscar right now. His performance is a major reason to see the film and he envelopes himself in the role while making a ‘comeback’ to the Hollywood circle.
The actor does more than wear a fat suit. He delivers an emotional turn as a lost soul who has spiraled out of control since his partner’s death. A recluse, he wheezes and struggles to walk to the bathroom while downing two meatball subs with extra cheese for lunch and two pizzas for dinner.
In a heartbreaking scene, he goes on an eating binge fueled by anger, vomiting it all up soon after. Charlie is a kind and decent person, having faced demons most of his life and trying to live out his final days in peace. He is suffering from heart failure and will not go to the hospital.
Fraser seamlessly delivers the best work of his career. He channels the proper emotional honesty that makes the character believable. He is hurting and the audience is along for the ride in his journey to find purpose before the inevitable occurs.
Before I criticize the supporting characters, I’ll stress that the acting by Sink, Morton, Chua, and Simpkins is excellent. Any award recognition provided to any of them will be well-deserved. For upstarts like Sink and Simpkins, this could be the boost to a lengthy career.
With that said, the cruelty heaped on Charlie is astonishing and difficult to watch making the characters of Elle and Mary unlikable. Thomas and Liz are a bit better until Thomas reveals that both Charlie’s weight and sexual orientation disgust him.
Liz is Charlie’s best friend and the most relatable but she is unnecessarily harsh with him when he chokes on food and doesn’t exude much warmth. Of course, she has her demons like the other characters.
A controversy regarding The Whale has emerged and there is a certain ‘fat shaming’ to be endured. If I were overweight I would not see the film since the face stuffing and cruel fat criticisms are part of the experience.
I ruminated throughout The Whale how easily it could be a stage version. Only one set, Charlie’s dark and dusty apartment in rural Idaho is used and only five principal characters exist.
Fraser’s performance is pure genius and worth the price of admission but there is difficulty with some other aspects of The Whale (2022).
Aronofsky fans should see the film but fairweather fans or non-fans should be forewarned that the film is a heavy and depressing journey.
Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Actor-Brendan Fraser (won), Best Supporting Actress-Hong Chau, Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won)