The Reel Review
A morbidly obese shut-in who’s literally been eating himself to death in his rundown apartment in Idaho attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter in the final days of his life, in this drama starring Brendan Fraser. It is based on Samuel D. Hunter’s 2012 stage play.
In his first film since 2017’s mother!, Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) again assembles a thought-provoking tale that unpacks a psychiatrist’s checklist of themes – guilt, addiction, abandonment, depression and religious oppression. Surrounded by empty food containers and filth, Fraser dons realistic looking prosthetics to become Charlie – the grotesque, 600-pound gay man trapped in a politically conservative state, both literally and figuratively. He has let himself and his living situation go, yet the bedroom he shared with his late partner remains a pristine shrine. Now facing his own mortality, Charlie seeks brutal honesty and closure from those around him.
Set almost entirely inside Charlie’s apartment, the film adaptation still feels very stagey, with some secondary characters and scenarios that are way too contrived and clunky to be believable. And Aronofsky’s music score rises almost mockingly during Charlie’s cringeworthy food binges. But the film is elevated by a trio of superb performances – Fraser as the gentle soul lacking a support system and beaten down by tragic circumstances, Hong Chau (The Menu) as his devoted caregiver plagued by her own guilt, and Sadie Sink (Stranger Things) as his lonely daughter with abandonment issues. The empathy they evoke makes The Whale an unforgettable experience.
• Brendan Fraser is enjoying a resurgence in his film career following a series of physical ailments (spinal, knee and vocal cord surgeries) and a battle with depression that Fraser says he endured after accusing then-Hollywood Foreign Press Association President Philip Berk of sexual assault in 2003.
• Idaho native Samuel D. Hunter drew from his own experience as an overweight gay kid in conservative Idaho in writing both the play and the film’s screenplay. Hunter also served as a typing double for Brendan Fraser in the film.
• Sadie Sink’s younger sister Jacey plays the younger version of Sadie’s character in the film’s beach flashbacks.
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