Charlie (Brendan Fraser) works from his small apartment as an English teacher, logging in remotely to assist the next generation of young writers. At the same time, Charlie is dealing with obesity which is now at its worst, causing him even to hide his face from his students. Visiting him regularly is his close friend, Liz (Hong Chau), who is also a qualified nurse. Now Charlie’s health is at dangerous levels; Liz fears his days are numbered unless he gets proper help. He refuses to go to a hospital for personal and unknown reasons and doesn’t want further assistance.
Now, with Charlie’s health taking a turn for the worse, he decides to try and reconnect with his only daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). However, Ellie wants nothing to do with Charlie; she hates him with a passion and has no interest in reconnecting on any level. In desperation, Charlie offers to write Ellie’s school papers for her and even offers her a sum of money if she spends quality time with him. Charlie also interacts with Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a doorknocker passionate about discussing everything religious. Ty understands that Charlie needs help before it’s too late.
The Whale is best described as a heavy drama based on a theatrical play of the same title. There is so much to unpack here. Given the story and themes, viewers will have mixed opinions. The same could be said about the leading performance from Brendan Fraser, who is wearing an oversized suit to play the role of Charlie.
Firstly, actor Brendan Fraser is no stranger to roles requiring massive transformation. In films like Bedazzled, the lead actor performed various characters in wild make-up and costumes. But I can’t deny that his transformation is next level in The Whale. The leading performance from Brendan Fraser as Charlie is impressive and unforgettable. The character of Charlie has many heart-gripping moments that are deeply disturbing or unsettling. Fraser’s line deliveries for the vast majority are excellent, and even his mannerism- such as wheezing given the state of his health- added to his performance. Side performances from Hong Chau, Sadie Sink and Samantha Morton were also strikingly great.
The musical score by Rob Simonsen was very fitting and pleasing. Again, this score will not be for everyone, as it is rather loud and dramatic during critical moments. Visually, I found this film extremly enjoyable. Director Darren Aronofsky again brings a movie to life that makes audiences uncomfortable, surprised, unsettled, and even disgusted. It should also be noted that as the film is set in one location, Charlie’s apartment, it feels cramped, small, and uncomfortable. Sure, some moments feel like a stage play, and lines of dialogue may even come across as too loud and over the top. However, I still enjoyed the experience as a lover of all things dramatic. The storyline pushes actor Brendan Fraser to a new level that movie lovers have never seen before.
Overall, make no mistake; this entire experience will significantly differ from audience to audience. I found Rob Simonsen’s musical score to be a joy and a delight, but again, this is another element that viewers may differ on. Without a doubt, while actor Brendan Fraser is no stranger to working with costumes and significant changes using make-up, this is a film where the actor delivers something new and shines in his best work to date. The storyline is filled with uncomfortable, unsettling and disgusting moments, yet there are also plenty of heartfelt moments and good reveals. Director Darren Aronofsky brings familiar themes to the screen in a theatrical, compelling, and unforgettable film, even if you don’t enjoy the journey or its outcomes.