Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Whale - Review

 Darren Aronofsky is nothing if not fascinating as a filmmaker. Not everything connects, but the choices he makes in projects are always unique at the very least. That remains true for The Whale, an adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s stage play of the same name, though the final product winds up landing far from the heights of his more interesting projects. 

An obese and reclusive English teacher (Brendan Fraser) tries to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption.

Truthfully, there is so little to praise here that finding the words to describe the miserable experience that The Whale is becomes near impossible task. The story aims for this look at a broken individual and his struggles, but Aronofsky frames far too much of it like a horror film. In many ways, the choices of Charlie to slowly eat himself to death and not seek medical assistance are judged by Aronofsky, and thus fails to capture the one thing necessary to make this work: empathy. In fact, there’s no sign of humanity from the other side of the camera, and the film absolutely suffers. 

In front of the camera, there is a shred of it with the performances from Brendan Fraser and Hong Chau. Despite being handed so very little to work with, the two performances are the sources for anything remotely good about this film. Fraser finds a way to imbue Charlie with a sense of optimism, even if misplaced, that differs from Arronofsky’s vision of a cautionary tale. He’s broken and, as much as he won’t admit it, he wants to die. Fraser is getting a ton of acclaim, and deservedly so, but the true highlight is Hong Chau. She shares remarkable chemistry with Fraser and delivers a believable character that wants so desperately to help her friend, but knows she can’t. The film’s other failures will drown out the praise she deserves as well, but rest assured, she’s proving herself with each new role she takes.

It’s hard to muster the energy to talk more about this abysmal attempt at a tear-jerker. It inevitably will make the rounds in casual conversation when its made more accessible to the general public, but please, ignore the noise. Fraser and Chau make the most of a bad screenplay and even worse direction, but at a time of the year where so many other, better films are in theaters, skip this one, and see those instead. 

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