The Whale (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – A reclusive, morbidly obese English teacher attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter.

My Take – For kids growing up in the 90s, along with the likes of Will Smith, Jackie Chan, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brendan Fraser was a movie star who mattered.

Though he mostly starred in critically detested films like Encino Man (1992), Airheads (1994), George of the Jungle (1997), Dudley Do-Right (1999), Bedazzled (2000) and Monkeybone (2001), his lead roles in certain films like The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) just resonated with the younger audience, particularly due to his solid performances and magnetic onscreen charm.

However, nothing on his resume could have prepared us for what he delivers on screen in this latest from director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan) and A24. In one of the most moving performances in years, this one is a redemptive triumph for an actor who hid his talent in quickly forgotten films and has been missing in action for most of the past decade.

While the film is no doubt a difficult watch like most of director Aronofsky‘s filmography, this deeply moving story about redemption, loss, and trauma, is successful mainly because of Fraser‘s dedicated and emotional performance. Here, Fraser opens his heart and soul for all to bear in a physical, emotional and devastating performance which portrays the resilience of the human spirit and condition, and acts as a testament of hope and forgiveness to those whom we’ve loved and lost.

Based and adapted from the off-Broadway play of the same name by Award-winning playwright Samuel D. Hunter, the film is extremely visceral from the get-go, starting with a memorable (and uncomfortable) first scene, it doesn’t lose its grip on you until it’s touching, heart-wrenching end. This is one of those films that drags you down and pounds your emotions, even as it mesmerizes you. Sure, it is not always pleasant to watch but the payoff and performances make it a breathtaking experience.

The story follows Charlie (Brendan Fraser), a 600lb recluse man struggling with depression who’s home bound and living in near isolation in rural Idaho. Charlie spends most of his days teaching online essay-writing classes, watching TV, reading, or just being unwilling to stop eating himself to death. Charlie has ballooned ever since the death of his same-sex partner, who apparently willed himself to death by wasting away in starvation after their relationship was condemned by his apocalyptic church-leading father.

The only person who remains close to Charlie is his longtime best friend and now caretaker, Liz (Hong Chau), who comes by regularly to check on Charlie’s vitals and bring him food, medical supplies, or other sundries. But as his health woes mount and his life expectancy is put at just a week, Charlie decides to reacquaint himself with his estranged daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). Much to Liz’s dismay, Charlie also welcomes a young missionary named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) into his life, who believes God has sent him specifically to save Charlie’s soul.

Almost the entirety of the film takes place in about 300 square feet of the upstairs apartment Charlie is confined to. The tight space adds tension to every interaction between the four characters, including Charlie’s ex-wife Mary (Samantha Morton). Here, director Aronofsky challenges us to see beyond our biases and pre-programmed ideas of attractiveness to find beauty in Charlie, in the warm, enveloping melody of his speaking voice, in his poetic, passionate soul.

But at the same time he shoots Charlie in a way that accentuates the indignity of his mostly sofa-based existence. The camera is positioned low as Charlie heaves himself to his feet, reducing this complex, wounded character to little more than a cascade of flesh. The film sets out to repulse us, and it frequently succeeds.

There has been fear that the film might be fatphobic and it’s true that cinematographer Matthew Libatique often leans into unflattering ways to show Charlie, soaping in a shower, straining to stand up or touch the floor, covered in sweat and shoving pizza or fried chicken into his mouth.

But body weight is not what the film want to focus on here. It’s more the weight of guilt, love and faith. From the start it is clear that Charlie is going to die, he is on a crusade to finish himself because life has hurt himself so much. He has taken eating as his poison. But now he just wants to do the right thing. Yes, this one is not for everyone, does lose steam somewhere in the middle and at times can feel monotonous, watching scene after scene of two talking heads, but the ending is handled beautifully, allowing us a respite from the emotional roller coaster of the 117 minutes run time.

Of course it helps that Brendan Fraser portrays the role to perfection. Aside from the rigorous four hours of prosthetic makeup application that Fraser went through every morning, it’s clear that he has taken on one of the most challenging roles of his career and delivered hard. He brings us a sense of vulnerability, earnestness, and honesty to Charlie that will make you feel so much.

Hong Chau is equally magnificent and her chemistry with Fraser on screen feels natural. Sadie Sink delivers yet another knock out turn as Charlie’s spiky daughter. Ty Simpkins is also good in the film, and in a blistering cameo as Charlie’s ex-wife, Samantha Morton is formidable as always. On the whole, ‘The Whale’ is a hard but vulnerably astounding film that marks the glorious return of the beloved Brendan Fraser.

Directed –

Starring – Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau

Rated – R

Run Time – 117 minutes

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