I’d been waiting to see The Whale since I first heard about it. I like Darren Aronofsky and I like Brendon Fraser, and the premise of the movie looked interesting.
A reclusive, morbidly obese English teacher attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter.
I’ve said before, I like to see movies where you have a small cast, set in a small space, and what a director can do with it.
The Whale stars Fraser, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, and Sathya Sriharan and that’s it. It’s based on a play by Samuel D Hunter.
I’m not going to delve all that deeply into the story since it’s pretty straightforward and I’ll leave that for you to find yourself. The basics are Charlie is stuck in his own house, he teaches a course online and he’s eating himself to death. Sounds like he’s living the dream!
He wasn’t always so obese, he left his wife and child 8 years earlier, for another man. The man ended up dying and this caused Charlie to withdraw from the world and start eating. Yes, he’s gay, but this wasn’t the “preachy” type of gay, it was integral to the story later on.
The Whale refers to the great white whale from Moby Dick, which is a central theme of the movie. I won’t spoil it since I think a lot of people will take away different things from the metaphor.
The focus of this movie is the performances of Fraser and the rest of the cast. As I said, I’ve always liked Fraser, he has made some interesting movies and always seemed like a nice guy. What happened to him was horrible, but I was glad to see him back in a major role.
At least now he is bad and gives a performance that is stunning. When you think he played George of the Jungle and Encino Man, The Whale couldn’t be more different, obviously. I know he’s done more serious roles, like Gods and Monsters, but not much else springs to my mind.
He spends the movie in a fat suit, which is incredible. At no point do you think it’s a fat suit, you get the impression he put on all that weight just for the role. Something like standing up for Charlie is a major effort.
Fraser makes it feel like everything is laboring to him, sometimes just sitting and breathing seems to get him out of breath. His acting is mostly done through his facial expressions since it’s very difficult for him to move around, but he does it brilliantly.
The rest of the cast is excellent, apart from, I have to say, Sadie Sink, who plays Charlie’s daughter. She is a very good actress, but here, she’s playing a “stroppy teenager” and I just didn’t think it was much of a stretch for her.
I kept seeing her as Max from Stranger Things most of the time. I’m being a little overly critical of her, as I say, she is a very good actress, but she just seemed typecast here.
The Whale’s direction is close to perfect. To get such emotion out of a small cast, in a closed space, is brilliant. This is not your typical Hollywood movie, there is no, or very little, CG, it’s just about great acting with an engaging script.
Personally, I thought The Whale was a “masterclass” of a movie. It’s not going to be for everyone and it’s not going to be for those who like a happy ending, since it can only end one way, so not a good “first date” movie.
I think this is a movie everyone should see though, at least once. It’s one of those movies you cannot help but think about afterward and you will take something away from it.
The Whale is now streaming on US services at the moment.
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