The Whale Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
Brendan Fraser delivers on one of his most powerful performances, in this heartbreaking drama by director Aronofsky. The Brenaissance is in full motion!
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins & Samantha Morton.
Run Time: 117 min.
US Release: 21 December 2022
UK Release: 03 February 2023
German Release: 27 April 2023
I am a huge fan of actor Brendan Fraser! He bestowed us with hysterically funny moments in comedies like Encino Man, George from the Jungle or Bedazzled, while simultaneously proving that he can give those roles a good dramatic angle. The Mummy, just like its subsequent sequel, proved that he is also able to carry an action-adventure horror franchise. However, one of my favourite performances by him must have been the cameos in Scrubs, as Jordan’s brother Ben. Then, all of a sudden, he disappeared from the screen. As such, I was looking forward to seeing his comeback on the big screen!
Now, finally released in German cinemas, I had a chance to experience this psychological drama in all its excellence. So hold on to your chairs, as we venture into an emotional spiralling review for… The Whale.
Scarred by the profound wounds of guilt and grief, chronically obese English teacher Charlie attempts to reconcile with his teenage daughter, for one last chance at redemption.
Taken from a stage play of the same name that premiered in 2012, director Aronofsky explained that he tried getting the film done for a decade, yet could not find the right actor to portray the lead. After seeing fractions of Fraser’s performance in a trailer for the 2006 flick Journey to the End of the Night, he decided to cast the actor in the leading role.
The adapted script is written by Samuel D. Hunter, who also wrote the stage play, updating the setting from 2009 to 2016 because he wanted the events to take place before a major world-changing shift. As such, it is made clear that the story takes place before the breakout of the COVID pandemic. Further changes made are Thomas' religion from Mormon to Christian, as well as Liz’s ethnicity; which was previously not specified.
It is no wonder that the director showed interest in adapting the play, as it falls pretty much into his repertoire. A psychological drama about an overweight, online English tutor, who has been given a grim prognosis, thus wanting to reconnect with his estranged daughter before it is too late. If it sounds familiar, it's because The Wrestler had a very similar plot beat. The movie is not about obesity, it is much more a moving emotional rollercoaster ride, of a man’s pain and regret, that led to a self-destructive addiction he is now paying for.
The director has a unique liking for self-destructive characters that are trapped in a behavioural or substance dependency, slowly taking over their lives. Surprising is the fact that, though dealing with a very bleak subject, the narrative manages to inspire through Charlie’s positive attitude towards the world outside. At no time does it glamourise the characters' situation, however, it also doesn’t mock overweight people.
The dialogue’s format hasn’t changed much from its theatre origins. Charlie either monologues alone in his apartment, reciting an essay on Mobey Dick or conversations are ignited when further characters enter his apartment. The frustration and pain of others constantly clash with the lead’s unshakable positivity in life, reflected in his love for literature.
As stated in my introductory paragraph, I am a big fan of Brandon Fraser, who gives an amazing comeback performance in this drama. It is his rendition of Charlie, a reclusive, overweight online English teacher, that elevates the premise into something overwhelming. Fraser sells the character’s self-loathing plus submissive behaviour, which contradicts his positive view of life itself. It is through time that we learn more about the persona’s past that include events leading to the estrangement of his daughter, as well as his destructive spiral into overeating.
Sadie Sink’s role of Ellie is somewhat similar to who she plays in Stranger Things but with more stowed anger. She has incredible chemistry with Fraser, whose persona gets in contact with his teenage daughter to rectify mistakes before he dies. Things don’t go well at first, as Ellie is embittered with him for having abandoned her and it is throughout the story that she opens up towards him, explaining how much he hurt her. Sink is brilliant at transferring those emotions!
Hong Chau plays Liz, Charlie’s private nurse and friend, giving the second strongest performance in this feature. Though being constantly concerned about her friend's health, not wanting him to die, Liz is enabling the lead’s unhealthy food addiction. It is not until later that she reveals events in her past that explain her actions.
Finally, we have Ty Simpkins, who portrays Thomas, a youth missionary for a Christian sect. Thomas, just like the other characters, has a chequered past, trying to absolve his sins by converting others. He sees Charlie as the ultimate test given to him by God, not seeing the flaws in his actions.
Cinematographically, the camera mirrors its play origins, by using the apartment of the main persona as the main stage, specifically his living room. This creates a tense, but more so, incredibly claustrophobic atmosphere, which is aided by the 4:3 aspect ratio. It also serves for Charlie’s body to take up a larger percentage of the frame, making him feel that much bigger. The lighting is very dim, underlining the gloomy subject matter plus the lead's loneliness. This applies equally to the colour palette, making use of faded hues.
One of the more impressive parts of this drama is the anatomically correct-looking fat suit. The prosthetics weighed about 136 kilos (300 lbs), with Fraser spending four hours each day in makeup. He consulted with the Obesity Action Coalition, as well as a dance instructor, to establish how to move with the excess weight. The department absolutely deserved that academy award!
The music, composed by Rob Simonsen, brings in a lot of emotions using powerful brass sounds that at times resemble fog horns. The overall atmosphere is melodramatic, emphasising the sadness of the narrative.
Verdict: Darren Aronofsky manages to create once again a heartbreakingly beautiful drama, which focuses on hope, loss, self-sabotage, but mostly on the humanity of an out-of-control addiction that consumes life. Does it feel similar to other works by the director? Sure, the thematics of downward spiralling habits have been explored by Aronofsky in most of his pictures, though it shares most similarities with The Wrestler. That said, it is a marvellous piece of cinema, thanks to a powerhouse performance by Brendan Fraser, who definitely deserved the golden boy for best actor! The supporting cast is equally stunning, containing the stern, yet tender portrayal of Hong Chau, just like an amazing performance by the young Sadie Sink. The cinematography reflects the plot’s theatre origins, focusing on Charlie’s apartment as the sole setting. The makeup and costume design for Fraser is jaw-dropping, never have prosthetics looked so realistic. The Whale is not an easy movie to digest and it will stick with audiences long after seeing it. It is definitely worth a watch, earning an 8.5 out of 10.
Have you already seen The Whale? Do you agree with my review? I can only recommend you add this to your watch list, it is a powerful, emotional drama! As always, thank you for reading!