The Whale (2022). Film review of the drama starring Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser in The Whale (2022).


star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review by Jason Day of The Whale, the drama starring Brendan Fraser as a grossly obese writer trying to connect with his daughter. Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is an English literature teacher who is morbidly, dangerously obese.He lives a reclusive life shut away from the outside world and in a perpetually darkened home giving lectures online with his webcam fixedly turned off. One day his bitter, estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) approaches him for help with an essay and his life takes a turn as he finds he has purpose again.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

When is a movie performance not a movie performance? When incredible prosthetics makeup does the bulk of the work, that’s when.

Case in point – Brendan Fraser in The Whale, something of a comeback for him. Formerly a box office champ in blockbusters such as Airheads (1994), George of the Jungle (1997) and The Mummy franchise (1999-2008) and more critically acclaimed productions such as the beautiful and moving Gods and Monsters (1998). But latterly, he has been seen in TV series or supporting in films with others as the star. This is his first ‘big’ mainstream movie he has headlined in about a decade.

I like Fraser – I’ve grown up with those movies listed above and rate him highly, as others rightly do – so it’s great to see him getting some prominence again, but is his performance in The Whale (or, as The Whale considering the obvious symbolism to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick which writer/director Aronofsky stuffs his movie with) ‘all that’?

The Whale is an unlikable film, something Aronofsky has form in creating, films that challenge us to identify with his leading characters. But is Fraser’s performance something so special, so unique? Do Bambi eyes, a passive aggressive, monotonous voice evoke empath for a glutton?

This is where the extraordinarily realistic make up effects come in – we should be able to see past the mounds of corpulent flesh that have been expertly added to him, to see the human within.

But Fraser and his character repeatedly ask for our sympathy, a desperation which struck the wrong note with me. Receiving sympathy is one thing, but beg for it as you rely on a fat suit to back you up cheapens the effect.

There’s more impressive performances in the supporting cast. Hong Chau as Charlie’s long-suffering sister-in-law and put-upon nurse portrays the sort of patience that most saints would struggle to emulate. Charlie’s emotional manipulation has turned her into an unwitting enabler, something that eats away at her as Charlie boy tucks into the umpteenth meatball marinara Sub she picks up off his filthy apartment floor.

Better still is Sinks as his neglected kid who has metamorphosed into a furious teenage bitch who delights in destroying people who get close to her. This is a clever turn as she Sink doesn’t ask us to feel sorry for her, she just gets on with being an absolute horror and, slowly but surely as we get her backstory, we understand her.

Aronofsky is used to creating the grimy, shadowy worlds of working class people stuck in the cycle of addiction following The Wrestler (2008) and, in particular, his awesome, uncomforable ‘Long Night’s Journey into Dreadful Day’ epic Requiem for a Dream (2000). That was an experience in itself and, in terms of rotten symbolism, he has some stonkingly apparent ones in The Whale (the sweat patch on Fraser’s back that resembles a tail fluke, the huge expressive eyes resemble those we’ve seen in other films and nature documentaries).

But there’s no doubt about the claustrophobic atmosphere he creates – The Whale is quite a visual ‘feast’. Aronofsky is a master at conjuring up the fetid world of life’s losers and dreamers, people who exist alongside us but we may not notice. On this basis it’s a place to dwell…maybe just the once.

Director: Darren Aronofsky. 1hr 57mins/117mins. A24/Protozoa Pictures. (15).

Cast & credits

Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Jeremy Dawson, Ari Handel.
Writer: Samuel D. Hunter.
Camera: Matthew Libatique.
Music: Rob Simonsen.
Sets: Mark Friedberg, Robert Pyzocha.

Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, Sathya Sridharan.


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