A reclusive and morbidly obese English teacher attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter.
THE GOOD STUFF
BRENDAN F****** FRASER- The hype is real. All the critical ravings that you may have been hearing since the reports of the six-minute standing ovation that Fraser received at the Venice Film Festival are entirely accurate and on point. One would think that because he was in a suit that made him appear to be 600 lbs (actually more of a complicated type of contraption rather than a simple “fat suit”) t, it would be the suit that would be the anchor to the performance. But that’s kind of not the case.
The whole point of Fraser’s character Charlie is that he can’t move around that much. So a vast majority of what this performance is about is filmed above the shoulders. The really impressive thing about this performance is how much he can hook you in with an eyebrow raise, a slight chuckle, or a squint of the eye. The subtleties speak very loudly here. This is one of the very best performances of 2022… perhaps the very best of the year.
HONG CHAU- One thing I can’t seem to figure out is how Fraser’s been getting the praise that he’s gotten, and yet Chau’s performance remains largely unspoken of in comparison. Every single solitary scene that these two have together in this film is absolute dynamite. The brilliance of Fraser’s performance would not be there if her performance were anything less than the brilliance that it is.
I have a many problems with the character itself (more on that in a second), but Chau’s performance is undeniable. It will be one of the biggest Oscar snubs of all time if her name is not mentioned for supporting actress nominations across the board. It would be absolutely ridiculous.
THE BAD STUFF
ELLIE- It’s not that Sadie Sink’s performance in this film is bad. But there are so many complexities to the character she plays that we just don’t have enough time to explore. The underlying question behind the plot of this film is whether her character is actually a good person or not. That requires a lot of attention and nuance.
And because we don’t get that, a lot of her decision-making and a lot of the opinions from other characters about who she flat out do not make a whole bunch of sense.
ETHICS- The chief export of literally every Darren Aronofsky film is the physical suffering of whoever the protagonist may be. Anybody who’s seen more than one of his films more than one time understands this going in. However, this export has been made most effective in past films by the helpless bystanders who cannot do anything about the protagonist’s suffering. That is not the case here. Instead of getting into spoiler territory I will simply ask this question:
If you genuinely love a person and you were watching them kill themselves day after day, knowing what the endgame is and that endgame is coming up very soon, if you had the power to stop it, would you?
That may seem like a silly question to anybody who isn’t a complete and utter sociopath. But in this movie, your suspension of disbelief is tested over and over again by how many people have the power to stop Charlie from what he’s doing and simply do not take action. Hong Chau’s character is a nurse. Not a caretaker, not a best buddy who read Wikipedia on how to deal with Charlie’s condition, but a person who took the hippocratic oath, a person who supposedly works at an actual hospital nearby.
That alone is absolute A+ tier ridiculousness to the 25th power, given the choices she makes in this film. Now, could you justify these choices with a little bit of backstory, sure. But other than one monologue, we don’t have time to dig any deeper into her or any other character that makes the same decisions that she makes regarding Charlie. This is annoying beyond belief. And it took me completely out of the story more than once.
THE UGLY STUFF
AN ATHEISM FETISH?- For the record, Darren Aronofsky has said that he believes in a higher power. He’s gone as far as to say that the extent to which he does believe is in the message of the movie that he did called The fountain. He said that in an interview sometime ago….and since then, that can’t help but to called into question.
His film Noah was about the duality of original sin by his own admission. His film mother! emphasized over and over again how God is a narcissist and selfish for letting humans have free will, and for some reason, it is this film that’s pretty much a middle finger to organized religion. Ty Simpkins plays a religious missionary who meets Charlie by chance and repeatedly tries to convert him. This character then gets told by literally every character that comes into contact with him throughout the movie that religion is damaging, God is selfish, and that his life is worthless because he converted to religion. And because Aronofsky can only extend his middle finger so far to religion, he then has some of the characters double back on their comments and gives them separate monologues to regurgitate the same exact points that they said before.
I like Aronofsky as a director just fine, but this is becoming a tiresome characteristic of his work. He seems to be one of those atheists that can’t just go in the corner and stay to themselves, they got to do some Bill Maher-esque boasting about their atheism to as many people as possible.
The whale is a majorly flawed film absolutely carried by two heroic performances. These performances are worth the price of admission and are very much worth every hint of awards consideration that they will be hyped up for.
I do wish Aronofsky could get out of his own way. He’s made a couple of borderline masterpieces. I feel that he’ll get his magnum opus one day. But this one is not it.
THE WHALE is in theaters now,