THE WHALE (2022) l Elevation Pictures | December 21, 2022
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton
Director: Darren Aronofsky
A reclusive English teacher living with severe obesity attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
The Whale boasts a career best performance from Brendan Fraser that is nothing short of magnificent, in addition to an excellent supporting ensemble, that results in one of the most provoking films of the year.
Brendan Fraser was a household name in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and after a horrible experience in the studio system, he is making his triumphant comeback in Darren Aronofsky’s latest film. Aronosfaky himself is a controversial filmmaker himself, who no doubt has an excellent directorial vision, but has created some of the most polarizing films in recent memory. For his latest film, Aronofksy brings Samuel D. Hunter’s stage play to the screen, with a screenplay by Hunter himself, which tells the tale of Charlie, a severely obese English professor, who tries to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter as he faces the choices he has made in his past.
As far as an Aronofksy film goes, this is by far his most grounded film to date. There are no crazy ideas at play, or visual tricks on the audience, unlike his two most recent films: mother! and Black Swan. Most likely this due to the fact that this is an adaptation and not something Aronofsky has written himself from an original idea. Given the health of the main character, there are a few eating scenes in the film, and walking into the film knowing Aronofsky’s risque style, I thought I was going to be sickened by how gross they would be. But they are actually not visually gross, as Aronofsky restrains himself from creating something visually disturbing to watch. Instead, the eating scenes are charged with emotion which makes them incredibly taxing to watch, never for a second losing the disturbing nature of them, but does not make you want to throw up because of the visuals, instead only furthering the film’s story.
The film all takes place within Charlie’s apartment, emulating the stage play and allowing the focus to be on the performances. Fraser towers, literally, over the entire film and does the best character work not only of his entire career, but it’s one of the finest performances of the year. Under pounds of makeup and prosthetics to transform him into a man that has to be close to six hundred pounds, Fraser crafts a truly heartbreaking character in Charlie. Still mourning the loss of his partner and having eaten his emotions, Fraser paints the portrait of a man dying in his own sorrow trying to make amends after years of neglecting himself, and he cuts your heart in half. As he expends all of his energy to do the simplest of tasks, such as lifting himself off the couch, Fraser is a tour de force in the physicality of the performance while tugging on your heart strings at every second of the film. His facial expressions stare right into your soul as he carries the film from start to finish it. Aiding his performance is the 4:3 aspect ratio, allowing Fraser to take up the entire shot to emphasize his size while also allowing nothing else in the shot to distract from his performance. Mark my words, Fraser is going all the way to the Oscars this year for his performance, and we could very well see him walk away with the award for Best Actor.
Though, the great performances don’t stop with Fraser. Hong Chau is incredible as Charlie’s friend and nurse Liz. She brings a fierce energetic and wicked sense of humour to each scene as she effortlessly, and without thanks, looks out for Charlie. At the same time, Chau digs deep for the film’s more emotional moments and will have you hanging on her every word. Sadie Sink continues to prove herself one of the most talented young actresses after a stellar season of Stranger Things as Charlie’s estranged daughter. Bursting with rage and hurt from her father abandoning her as a young child, Sink commands your attention whenever she is on screen. Undercut with a pain and hurt that permeates every frame, Sink is the perfect screen partner for Fraser and the two of them will rip your heart out with their interactions. This film will be getting an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for either Chau or Sadie, or potentially even both, it’s just a matter of time at this point. Outside of Chau and Sink, Ty Simpkins and Samantha Morton are both wonderful in their supporting roles, even if they only have a handful of screentime.
The film itself is simple, it's one big set, which does not lend itself to flashy filmmaking. Especially with the 4:3 aspect ratio, Aronofsky is forced to shoot a film that feels very much like a stage play. Steven Price’s musical is great, even though it is underused for lots of the film. But when it does play, it takes over the film and helps the emotion of the story transcend the screen. Especially in the film’s final ten minutes when the score is blasting, Aronosfsky’s directorial signature style finally breaks through, and Fraser and Sink are giving it their all. This epic conclusion to the film reduced me to tears as it is a truly beautiful ending to the film. Brendan Fraser is back with one of his greatest performances of all time, supported by magnificent performances from Hong Chau and Sadie Sink and an emotionally charged narrative, The Whale is easily a must see awards contender that will take you on an emotional journey over the course of the film.
RATING: 4 out of 5