Review: The Whale

Alright, let’s get this out of the way: The Whale is a lot to digest.

Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of the play by the same name, playwright Samuel D. Hunter provides the screenplay, has got to be one of the more difficult films to watch from 2022. It’s certainly a no-fun character study that addresses grief, depression, guilt, and loads more themes that will almost certainly make you uncomfortable at certain points. That’s not to say there’s nothing to enjoy here. In fact I’d argue that while I understand a fair amount of the criticism this film has received it was far better than I was expecting it to be.

Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is a morbidly obese English professor living alone and struggling with various health issues. After running out on his wife (Samantha Morton) and daughter (Sadie Sink) years prior to be with his now deceased boyfriend, Charlie wants to use the little time he has left to reconnect with his daughter. With the help of his boyfriend’s sister (Hong Chau) and a persistent missionary worker (Ty Simpkins) Charlie is forced to deal with the physical and emotional toll his previous actions have led him to.

To start with the obvious, the performances, particularly Brendan Fraser, are phenomenal all across the board. Hong Chau steals every scene she’s in and Sadie Sink is perfectly cast as Charlie’s rebellious teenage daughter but this is Fraser’s show. While donning heavy facial and body prosthetics Fraser gives an incredibly moving performance packed with plenty of tear-jerking moments and a rarely seen physicality. There are a number of moments that will leave you empathetic for a man who by all logic should be an unlikeable character yet we can’t help but root for his redemption in large part due to Fraser’s gentle yet powerful approach to the part. Chau is incredible as well as a friend and nurse who is clearly balancing the weight of wanting to help her friend as much as she can while also enabling his behavior.

While this film his heavily reliant on its performances and writing, Aronofsky makes the most out this mostly one-location piece. The makeup needed for Fraser is some next level stuff. Not just the prosthetics he’s wearing but also the constant sweat and grease on his face really amplifies the severity of Charlie’s condition. Sound is also a critical component of the film, particularly with Charlie’s mobility, breathing, and eating. Again, it can be a little uncomfortable at points, one scene in particular left me audibly shook.

The flaws in film are ironically tied to its strengths. Fraser can go a little too over-the-top dramatic at points and the script insistence on using Moby Dick as a metaphor grows old fairly quickly. A lot of the discussion around the film also is focused on what some may consider insensitive handling of obesity (just look at the title of the film) and while I admit the film pulls no punches and isn’t what I would call sympathetic I don’t believe there was any bad intentions from Aronofsky, Hunter, or Fraser. The character of Charlie isn’t simply Mike Myers screaming about taking a crap and singing about Baby Back Ribs, it’s a grounded portrayal of a man who has made one poor choice after another and is now (pardon the pun) experiencing the weight of those decisions while trying to rectify his mistakes the best he can.

Fraser deserves all accolades he’ll receive for this one, as does Hong Chau. It’s tough to say at this point whether he’ll win for Best Actor but if he does you won’t hear any complaints from me. Chau should at least get a nomination but her winning may be a longshot at this point. This should also be a lock for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Makeup and Hairstyling nominations. Add a potential Best Picture nomination and we could be looking at up to five nominations here and potentially three wins.

The Whale won’t be for everybody. It’s certainly not a film many will want to watch over and over again. That being said, it’s worth a watch for Fraser’s performance alone. For those who also enjoy theatrical adaptations I’d say this film is about as play-like as one could hope for.

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  1. Academy Award Predictions: Round 4 – Too Much Popcorn

    […] Should Win: Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin) – So since my last round of predictions I’ve gone out and seen The Whale. He’s incredible and completely deserves all the praise he’s been receiving. That said, […]


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