ReviewVenice 2022: The Whale movie review – Brendan Fraser stars in Darren Aronofsky’s transcendent father-daughter drama. The Oscar race has begun
- Brendan Fraser roars back into form, starring as a morbidly obese man trying to reconnect with his daughter, played by Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink
- The leads’ performances are riveting, with Fraser in a convincing fat suit baring his soul, and Sink presenting a multilayered character
Darren Aronofsky returns with one of the best films of his career, which premieres in competition at this year’s Venice film festival. His first movie in five years, since the divisive horror Mother!, The Whale also marks a remarkable, blazing return to form for Brendan Fraser.
The actor plays Charlie, a man so morbidly obese he’s confined to his crummy flat, barely even able to lift himself from his sofa. His only friend is Liz (Hong Chau), a no-nonsense nurse who looks in on him, desperately worried about his failing health.
Making a living by teaching creative writing via online tutorials (he keeps his camera turned off, so his students can’t see his size), Charlie has just one wish: to reconnect with his daughter Ellie (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink).
Eight years earlier, Charlie left her and her mother (Samantha Morton) for one of his students – a man named Alan. He was in love, but now bitterly regrets becoming estranged from Ellie, a pot-smoking misanthrope, angry at the world.
“You taught me something very important,” she says, bitterly. “People are a**holes.”
So determined is he to patch up their relationship, Charlie offers her money so she’ll spend time with him, while also promising to help out with her English essay, which she’s failing.
Passionate about literature (Moby Dick is a key reference), he’s also passionate about self-expression. Even when Ellie does something vicious, posting a picture of him online and claiming there will be a “grease fire in hell” when he burns, he praises her honesty.
Adapted by Samuel D. Hunter from his own play, The Whale never feels theatrical, despite its one setting. There are enough visitors – from Dan (Sathya Sridharan), the pizza delivery guy who drops Charlie’s supplies off every night to Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a missionary for religious cult New Life – to keep you engaged.
But really, all eyes are on Fraser, his face and body swathed in a fat suit that takes the art of make-up and prosthetics to new heights.
Fraser recently stated he gave The Whale “everything” he had, and it can’t be argued with. He bares his soul here, aided by a terrific Sink, who initially feels like she’s doing a one-note grumpy teenager act, only to reveal hidden layers later on.
Utterly heartbreaking as it moves into its final act, this is a transcendent, triumphant film. Without doubt, the Oscar race has begun and Aronofsky and Fraser are at the head of the queue.