The Whale

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Whale is a manipulative, exploitative piece of theatricality. The casting of Brendan Fraser in this role plays into that. The actor used to be thin, and now he is not. That should have been enough to play the part of an obese man. Yet director Darren Aronofsky stacks the deck. The account features an admittedly outstanding performance buried — quite literally under pounds of prosthetics — in a bad film.

The Whale is a fable about regret. Charlie is a reclusive English instructor who teaches remotely via Zoom. (He keeps his webcam off.) Set solely inside the confines of a modest and darkened home, he has isolated from the world. Nevertheless, he desperately wants to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). He’s having a particularly rough week. He is suicidal. This is a chronicle where we watch an individual punish his own body. When the story opens, we find him slumped in a chair watching pornography, coughing and wheezing to the point that he has ALMOST — and there’s no other way to say this — masturbated to death. That’s just the opening 5 minutes.

Darren Aronofsky makes a lot of questionable choices. The filmmaker has a fascination with grotesqueries designed to shock. Too many to list them all. We’ll see Charlie naked in the shower, struggling to simply stand up, and gorging on a meatball sub which causes him to vomit. Charlie shoves so much into his mouth without chewing that he chokes violently. His nurse and best friend, Liz (Hong Chau ), is there to save him by jumping on his back like a trampoline. It’s an embarrassingly ridiculous scene.

Brendan Fraser’s achievement as a 600-pound fellow is an act of self-loathing and shame. The display is effective because it feels genuine. Charlie sees the beauty in everyone else’s life but his own. He constantly apologizes for his existence. His sensitive portrayal is the re-emergence of an actor who left Hollywood. He received a standing ovation when the picture had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September. I’m glad Fraser has found peace and critical acclaim within the industry. If he wins the Oscar, I’ll cheer. I love that real-life narrative. However, I’m reviewing a movie, not how his comeback story makes me feel.

The Whale is stagy work that relies on frequent guests who drop by the house. The acting is (mostly) good. Ty Simpkins portrays Thomas, a Christian missionary, that is surprisingly sympathetic. Samantha Morton shows up as Charlie’s ex-wife, and she hints at the dramatic interactions that could have made this saga tolerable. Ellie — as their teenage daughter, however — is a piece of work. She’s a sociopath with all the earmarks of a future serial killer. She hates her father and verbally abuses him in a way that’s hard to stomach. It gets physical too. At one point, she drugs her father with a dose of Ambien that could have killed him. When confronted with that reality, she defensively shouts, “but it didn’t.”

The Whale is a punishing endurance test about a victim who has lost the will to live. Ultimately Samuel D. Hunter’s screenplay does offer a conclusion. The audience has been pummeled for the better part of two hours only to present an ending that isn’t earned. It’s hard for the audience to accept what’s being given after being relentlessly force-fed unpleasantries. Brendan Fraser does his best with the words on the page. It equally rests on the shoulders of actress Sadie Sink, whose shouting, one-note depiction is always operating at peak volume. There’s no room to shift gears when necessary to get the audience to embrace the ersatz emotion the director is now putting down. The Whale is a fraud — a vile movie further defeated by tacked-on sentiment.

5 Responses to “The Whale”

  1. Well, well, well. We finally disagree on a movie. I realized what we’d see after that awful opening scene. So nothing surprised me. Of course, I wanted it to be a positive story about an obese man wanting to change for the better. This was not going to be that story. Aside from the nasty daughter, caring, yet enabling friend. I felt for this guy. His only goal in life was to leave everything to his daughter. I believe he convinced himself to believe she was good because he blamed himself for not being there for her. In his life, he thought money was the only thing he had to offer. Tragic but I felt for him. Acting was excellent. 3 1/2 ⭐️

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    It was Fraser’s performance buoyed if you will by the supporting cast that kept me invested and the ending was shattering to me because that’s where everything else clicked. I honestly couldn’t tell if it was a geek show pointing and gawking for two hours at this life or simply observing until that ending. That’s where it became a great film for me. Not Aronofsky’s best work but then he didn’t write it

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting vie. The movie felt to me obvious and cliche in the first half, than it picked up toward the end. Having said that, I am also wandering about the effect that disgust has on us as we watch Charlie/the movie… me feeling bored I think has more to do with a defense against difficult feelings than the scarcity of the movie… Toward the end I felt more able to relate on a personal level with all the characters.

    Liked by 1 person

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