Rob Reviews "The Whale"
There are a lot if interesting choices made when it comes to The Whale.
Based on the play by Samuel L. Hunter (who also wrote the screenplay), Brendan Fraser plays Charlie who is morbidly obese and works as a remote professor for online classes on writing. He is cared for by his “sister,” Liz (Hong Chau), who insists that he go to the hospital to be taken care of much to Charlie’s chagrin. Also contrary to her advice, Charlie is trying to re-connect with his daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). Amongst all of this is the chance meeting with traveling missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins), and as the story progresses secrets are revealed and SO much more.
Fraser and director Darren Aronofsky got a six-minute standing ovation when this film played in Venice, and I have mixed reactions to it. Fraser himself gives a performance that is both honest and heart-wrenching at the same time as the guy who wants to see the best in people no matter who they are. Visually, Aronofsky chooses to shoot in the old-school 4:3 format (which I had to double check in case that was just the format for my screener DVD), which although normally annoys me actually works here for multiple reasons. Shooting on a tighter aspect ratio really gives the physical attributes to Charlie that much more emphasis in a way that does not seem patronizing in any way or even meant to give sympathy; it simply reinforces not only the predicament he has gotten himself into on multiple fronts but also the smallness of his world given his limited mobility.
Given that this is based on a play, Aronofsky chooses also to keep everything confined to one set outside of flashbacks. Given that there are only seven people in the entire cast, anything else would have seemed like it was being done on too grand of a scale. Given that this is truly more Charlie’s story than anyone else’s, that world needed to stay within his apartment to show the connection between him and only those he truly knows outside of Thomas intact to the point where even in his virtual classroom his “Instructor” box is blank claiming that his camera is not working. (There is only one other time he crosses paths with someone, but that could be a minor spoiler.)
Sink also does a great job on the level she has established especially with the current season of Stranger Things, but the real story for me here is Hong Chau. It astounds me that there is not more talk of her portrayal of the best friend who wants the best for Charlie while just simply wanting him to be happy on the level that he strives for with others that is nothing short of incredible. Of all of the characters in this film, I felt more for her than even for Charlie especially as the story itself unfolded.
Do I believe that the hype that The Whale has received is justified? Honestly, yes and now. While this film will not make my Top Ten of 2022, it will be nowhere near the bottom of that list. There are pieces of this film that will resonate with me for some time on multiple levels, but not necessarily a six-minute standing ovation’s worth. I’m just happy to see Fraser getting the love he has so deserved for over three decades.