Brendan Fraser is a good actor. He is very capable of carrying a feature film squarely on his back, but it’s been a minute since he’s starred in a blockbuster. And if you believe in the clickbait articles, he’s been pretty much blacklisted in Hollywood after his #MeToo experience went public several years ago. And yet here he is, teaming up with a major filmmaker, preparing for his major comeback… I’m just not sure it should have been The Whale.
Based on Samuel D. Hunter’s play, Charlie (played by Fraser), is a 600-pound online teacher who’s a shut-in. Experiencing severe obesity, he’s incredibly reclusive. Although his condition is worsening, the attempts at reconnecting with his estranged daughter one last time are met with hostility after he abandoned her and his ex-wife for a man. Will the broken family be able to see eye to eye one last time before it’s too late?
To say there’s a lot going on in the main story is an understatement. And it doesn’t help that Director Darren Aronofsky’s character study has an incredibly slow burn. But when our main character isn’t searching for redemption, his binge-eating delves into body-horror territory, a subgenre I am simply not a fan of. He hurts both emotionally and physically.
Charlie’s miserable… self-loathing, even. His sorrow, pain and trauma of loss is tough to watch at times because I knew someone who was kind of in a similar situation, health-wise. Other parts of the film are hard to watch because it felt like Aronofsky’s direction was, “Look at me, this is gross…”
Fraser’s choice of this movie as his comeback vehicle feels questionable, at best. Wearing a 300-pound fat suit the entire time, it feels like Hunter’s screenplay occasionally fat-shames Charlie, while also shaming his ex-wife and his estranged teenage daughter for cutting all ties with him while he’s sick at other points. Nobody escapes the scrutiny, which can frequently be painful for the audience. There’s a whole lotta pain to go around during the film’s 117-minute running time.
The only truly enjoyable character here is Liz (Hong Chau), Charlie’s best friend. As a nurse, she only wants to help out her friend, who absolutely refuses any sort of medical care. She also has deeper personal reasons why her character is sculpted as the sometimes-angry conscience to Charlie’s out-of-control optimist, and those layers of emotion felt the most believable of the whole bunch.
I don’t think this kind of intimate character study will be a box-office king, but I hope The Whale does receive some sort of recognition as being a powerful film. Hollywood generally praises its filmmakers to take these kinds of risks, while appreciating/acknowledging one of its (previous) stars who’s been out of the spotlight for several years. I expect Fraser and Aronofsky will be quite busy throughout the awards season, but I will be personally cheering for Chau the most.
The Whale is rated R and will be released theatrically in Nashville on December 21.