HOLLYWOOD—If you want a movie with a story and a performance that pierces thru your heart and hurts to the core, look no further than “The Whale.” Out of all the movies I have seen this awards season, and I have seen plenty, “The Whale” is perhaps the one that stuck with me the most. It forces all sorts of emotions from empathy, to sadness, to grief, to rage, to happiness. It is a drama at its absolute best. Look, I know the Oscar for Best Actor is between Austin Butler “Elvis” and Brendan Fraser for his performance in this dynamic drama. I’ve seen all the films nominated for Best Actor, it is not even a question, this is Fraser’s award to lose.
What he does with the character of Charlie is phenomenal. No, he did not gain a ton of weight to play this man who is so obese he has become a shut-in, but that’s fine. Why? Fraser embodies a character in a way that I didn’t need to see a complete transformation as so many actors or actresses seem to think. He brings rawness to Charlie, a level of sincerity and honesty that just punches you in the guy repeatedly.
For all those people think director Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece (yes, I will call it that) because he masterfully tells this story which in essence takes place in the same setting for nearly 120 minutes, but as a viewer you don’t even realize that because you become so sutured with the narrative and the characters it was pure amazement to watch this drama.
Fraser, as noted portrays Charlie, a man so obese that he refuses to show his face to his students where he teaches an online course on English. Charlie is quite intelligent even though his predicament would make you think otherwise. His only pal is his nurse, Liz (Hong Chau), who monitor’s Charlie’s health well also showing not just compassion, but a friendship. Why in the world are people not talking about Chau’s performance more?
This woman is fantastic in this role. Snarky, warm, blunt, comedic, yet fierce; she brings a whirlwind of emotions to a character that is an absolute scene stealer people. Jamie Lee Curtis “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and Angela Bassett “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” are all the talk for Oscar, but even you see “The Whale” That would instantly change. It is absolutely incredible work from Chau here.
In addition, you have this strong supporting cast from Ty Simpkins who portrays Charlie, a religious zealot who has a few more secrets than he wants the world to know. There is also strong work from Samantha Morton as Mary, Charlie’s ex-wife, and Sadie Sink as Ellie, Charlie’s estranged daughter. Sink is vicious and ruthless in this role as a daughter scorned. I cannot recall the last time I absolutely hated a character and that emotion did not change throughout the movie. Talk about just pure evil, just watch for yourself and make that decision. That is a testament to the phenomenal writing here people.
The audience is taken on this journey with Charlie, whose health is seriously life or death, his blood pressure if thru the roof and he could have a heart attack and die any minute. Liz has pushed him constantly to go to the doctor for help, but he refuses noting he cannot afford it, but the audience knows he can as he has nearly $100,000 stashed away. That money is intended for his estranged daughter, Ellie (Sink) who despises her father, but he wants to bond with his daughter and is willing to pay her to spend time with him. Talk about gut punch, I mean gut punch that strikes the heart in the worst way.
Charlie almost feels like a punching bag for so many people, but he takes it on the chin like no one better. You feel for this character, and not just because of his situation with his weight, but how people treat him and view him. He feels as if he has no value and I think that is something any person can identify with if you have low self-esteem and people view you less than others. Weight is a resonating theme throughout the movie which is what people may think this movie is all about, but it is not.
“The Whale” is about relationships, love, family, friendship, absent parents, troubled children, healthcare, shame, education, and so much more. I went into this movie thinking one thing and left learning so much more. I kept thinking the title of this movie was about a man being viewed as big as a particular mammal, but it’s a reference to a novel, one that has a distinct connection to Charlie and his daughter and something that brings him purpose in life. This movie has amazing pacing that never maintains your focus from start to finish, and there are some gripping scenes that just torch your soul in the worst and best ways people.
Do I want to take in “The Whale” for a second viewing to take in all the incredible performances and perhaps one of the most powerful stories that I have seen in years? Yes, but it’s a tough watch. This drama is so beautiful rarely to I recommend a film for all to see, but this is indeed a must-see people; powerful, gripping and just fantastic performances all around. It needs to receive way more love than what it is receiving.