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Eric Slay

The Whale (2022)

The Whale (2022)  

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This did not work for me, and I think the main reason is that Darren Aronofsky was clearly the wrong person for the material. While I should admire his attempts at trying to make a stage adaptation that pretty much takes place entirely in one apartment more "cinematic," a lot of what he does ends up rendering what should be very powerful as mostly ineffective (the revolting binge-eating scene, in particular, is supposed to be harrowing but due to the out-of-place score and horror movie style framing just had me rolling my eyes at how goofy it all was). I also couldn't stand either of the young characters. Ty Simpkins' mysterious missionary should've been cut completely and the movie wouldn't have missed him. And poor Sadie Sink's estranged daughter role she's stuck with has to be one of the most obnoxious movie characters in years. I just wanted someone to slap her Will Smith-style most of the time she was on screen.

 

Not underwhelming, though, is Brendan Fraser, who lives up to the hype with a moving performance that at times threatens to overcome the problems of the rest of the movie to turn it into a worthwhile experience, and he's equally matched by a tremendous Hong Chau (Samantha Morton, just as she did in She Said, also stands out in her one scene). I can't complain too much if he ends up winning awards for this. He's so good that it's all the more disappointing that Aronofsky often lets him down with manipulative and questionable decisions that leaves the movie unsure whether it has sympathy for its main character or wants us to be disgusted by him.

 

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The Whale might just be the most erratic, uneven film I’ve seen from 2022, but the depth of its strengths comfortably counteracts some of the stranger choices and less savory qualities of what transpires onscreen. From the trailers and a brief plot synopsis, I wondered how this film could be so divisive; having now seen it, I get that divisiveness completely. This film – and likely also the play it’s adapted from, given that they share the same author – traffics in characters who become increasingly unlikable as the narrative progresses, and the script sometimes seems like it’s having them say the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time for the sake of ratcheting up the drama. There’s also the uncomfortable intimacy with the depiction of the protagonist’s binge eating, which makes for scenes that feel like they’re present more for the sake of inducing squirms than for dramatic necessity. (It practically goes without saying that viewers who have any sort of eating disorder should probably skip this one.) However, amid the film’s difficulties and missteps, it also boasts two searing performances from Brendan Fraser and Hong Chau. After quite some time away from major leading roles, Fraser disappears into his performance as morbidly obese protagonist Charlie, giving viewers a full, brilliantly realized depiction of his character’s emotional life. Fraser brings touches of humanity to the part that feel like they go beyond what is present in the script, and he sells his decisions so convincingly that Charlie’s selfishness and naivety – qualities that would come across more gratingly in a lesser performance – do not impede viewers’ ability to connect with him. Chau is also superb as Liz, the nurse who comes over to take care of Charlie. Chau’s chemistry with Fraser sells the nature of their relationship perfectly, and she absolutely nails a monologue that delivers a twist that admittedly reads a little forced on the page. There’s also strong work from Ty Simpkins as a young missionary (I think he hits the right level of misplaced good intentions) and Samantha Morton in a brief but moving part. With Sadie Sink as Charlie’s troubled daughter Ellie, it’s hard to tell what, exactly, is off: Sink’s erratic performance, Aronofsky’s direction of it, the writing of the character (she never feels like a real teenager), or some combination thereof. The Whale is not a fun sit by the very nature of its subject matter, and it sometimes feels like a film that could be better with a lighter touch; however, with how great Fraser and Chau are and how effectively it hits when it needs to, it’s a worthwhile viewing experience.

 

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Shocked at how absolutely dreadful and cringeworthy this mostly was. Even Fraser- whose immensely likable screen persona is perfect this type of role - is given some straight up absurd moments here. Filming him like he is the TRex in jurassic park  also doesn't does help and bordered on unintentionally hilarity. This is not a good movie unfortunately but Fraser's performance is great and cinema would really benefit from his return to major roles. 

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