The Whale Review: Brendan Fraser in Darren Aronofsky’s Drama
Venice: For Fraser, ‘The Whale’ is a confident leap to the movie star status he so rightly deserves.
There are two things to be a little worried about and one thing to be extremely excited about when entering “The Whale”.
The first element of concern is director Darren Aronofsky, who admittedly made outstanding films like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Pi” and achieved career-defining performances in “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler.” But her last two films, “Noah” and “Mother!”, succumbed to all her worst instincts, creating bloated, self-indulgent nonsense that was actively painful to navigate.
In “The Whale”, the use of “fat suits” is also slightly disturbing, with which contemporary audiences are increasingly uncomfortable. Much of the use of these so-called fat suits has been to create phobic jokes, particularly turning skinny movie stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts and Courteney Cox into walking punchlines. Even when the use itself is fat-phobic, in the case of Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp in “American Crime Story,” there’s also the consideration that heavier actors who often struggle to get roles do not have the opportunity to play big roles.
However, most who come to “The Whale” may be overflowing with goodwill because of Brendan Fraser. After suffering well-documented injuries and abuse from the film industry, Fraser retired from Hollywood, leaving behind heartbroken Gen Xers and millennials who adored him in a wide range of roles. , from delightful himbos to tragic underdogs and wise action heroes. After a few hesitant steps into the spotlight in small roles and television appearances, the comeback was further strengthened when he was cast in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Steven’s “No Sudden Move.” Soderbergh. “The Whale” by Darren Aronofsky formalizes: The Brendanaissance is launched!
Fraser gives an impressive performance, in every sense of the word, as Charlie, a 600-pound man who teaches online writing classes and never leaves his apartment. Despite the best efforts of his nurse best friend Liz (Hong Chau), Charlie refuses to go to the hospital, even though he shows signs of congestive heart failure and has a blood pressure of 238/134. Charlie has never recovered since the death of Alan, the “love of his life”, a few years prior and has passed the time since on his sofa, slowly eating himself to death. This final week works almost like an introverted companion to “Leaving Las Vegas,” a similar journey into self-destruction, but here with a quiet commitment to solitude. The action of “The Whale”, faithful to the play on which it is based, never leaves Charlie’s small apartment.
The fat suit is what it is. There are many valid reasons to think this movie has some fat intolerant undertones and stances, especially one scene where it seems to suggest a person might overdose on mayonnaise like it’s heroin uncut. And many could be triggered by a big central character being openly called “disgusting” throughout. But in terms of practical effects, it’s hard not to be impressed with the prosthetics, especially around Fraser’s face, as they look reasonably realistic. He is able to give a fun and devastating performance seemingly without hindrance.
Charlie knows he only has a few days left, so he decides to reconnect with his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), whom he left behind when he fell in love with Alan eight years ago. She is now 16 and fails high school. The couple’s only contact has been child support payments and sporadic updates through his mother. Ellie is a nightmarish caricature of a teenage girl. Sink recklessly maintains his performance at 10 at all times, which is squeaky cumulatively. Respite comes when her mother, played by the always excellent Samantha Morton, comes to Charlie about their troubled daughter who gets the biggest laugh of the movie in a “Charlie!” She is diabolical!
Despite the hilarity of this cutting assessment, “The Whale” actually works better at its less cruel. When Fraser manages to show Charlie’s spirit in a back-and-forth with stubborn, hypocritical missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins), smiling softly as he reassures him, “I read the Bible. I thought it was devastating. Or when Liz jokingly threatens to stab him, and he hugs her and makes her laugh tenderly, whispering, “What’s it gonna do?” My internal organs measure at least two feet. When his confrontation with Morton is so filled with mutual compassion, it’s hard to believe this is the same movie that showed Charlie eating a chicken wing in such brazen disgust.
Without Brendan Fraser’s innate charm and ability to project sweet sadness through the slightest twinkle of his huge blue eyes, “The Whale” wouldn’t have much else to do. Morton and Chau’s flawless performances shine a light on the complicated relationship with Charlie, a lovable, frustrating, and dishonest man.
Aronofsky’s direction is cautious but brings a cinematic flair, which plays into Charlie’s claustrophobic existence rather than simply feeling burdened with where the story originated on stage (where it’s confined to a single set). Samuel D. Hunter’s script has elements to recommend it. Allusions to “Moby Dick,” which seem burdensome at the start of the film, culminate in something moving and, in the film’s final moments, even profound.
For Fraser, “The Whale” is a confident leap into the movie star status he so rightly deserves. For the normally more low-key Venice audience, who usually rush to the exit as the film ends, the mere sight of Fraser’s name over the end credits made the crowd turn to the screen to applaud and applaud the triumphant return of the actor. If that rapturous applause continues throughout awards season, it could turn out to be the most wonderful and emotional moment of this whale’s journey.
“The Whale” premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. A24 will release it in theaters on Friday, December 9.