Here is what you need to know about The Whale: desperate to redeem the biggest regret in his life, a morbidly obese English professor named Charlie decides to do anything he can to reconnect with his estranged daughter. While everything in his life continues to spiral, he desperately clings to his positive thoughts, even if they are misplaced in the dark existence of his isolation.
Brendan Fraser brings Charlie to life in adapting the Samuel D. Hunter play for director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) in a haunting performance with resonating emotion set within Aronofsky’s patented bleak style paired with Rob Simonsen’s doomsday clock-style score that ranks up there with his work on Foxcatcher. I can’t help but wonder if my fond memories of Fraser’s past roles along with the prevalently upbeat tone his resume carries forced to to feel the despair in his current performance that much more. The combination of all of these things gave me just enough hope that the anxiety of what is happening became simply overwhelming as the film went on.
Supporting Fraser is a small but stellar cast who excels within each vein their characters are intended to strike. Ty Simpkins (Jurassic World) takes a relatively straightforward role and fleshed out a lot of nuisance for Thomas to give a layered performance that extends beyond his religious optimism while Sadie Sink (who has always had a knack for playing a tough girl for Netflix) really stretches her talent into the sociopathic Ellie giving me just enough hope for Charlie to win her over before it was too late. However, these characters are anchored by the true good in this story shown by Hong Chau (The Menu) as Charlie’s best friend, caretaker, and more in Liz, who is backbone on which The Whale stands and jumps off the screen with a dynamic performance that shift from humor to tough to emotionally distraught and even calm disciplinarian without ever having the change feel unnatural. Chau should be getting more recognition in this showcase of true talent, possibly even beyond Fraser (who will likely be receiving nominations for his performance at every awards show). Chau gets my vote this year for best supporting actress, no question.
While the entire picture takes place in a small area, the performances are enough to carry the film great distances and is arguably the most emotional experience I have had in a theater this year. If you are like me and find films to be an emotional experience, bring ALL of the tissues because The Whale will activate the tear ducts.