New from Peter Spedale on Be Movie See Movie: Movie Review: The Whale

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There are three types of Darren Aronofsky movies. There’s the boundary pushing force of nature magnum opuses, then there’s the brilliant misfires, which look amazing but fail calamitously. The third are the actor showcases, where Aronofsky takes a broken down piece of meat and gives them a chance for the talent showcase that passed them by. The Whale given Brendan Fraser that meat, and has him eat it, over and over again, into our over worked cholesterol filled hearts, until we die of a heart attack by how shockingly wonderful this performance is.

The Whale takes place in Charlie’s (Brendan Fraser) apartment. And nowhere else; morbidly obese, Charlie is home ridden, working remote jobs, only to pay for his next meal. He has one friend, Liz (Hong Chau), who at this point is more of a free home visit nurse, taking care of Charlie in her off time. Content to eat himself to death, Charlie is thrown 2 curveballs: a Christian missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins) visits and sees Charlie as his calling, and Charlie’s estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), pissed at the world for what happened in the past between the two of them.

Other than The Wrestler, I’m surprised Darren Aronofsky wanted to adapt The Whale. Outside of Fraser’s costuming, there’s really nothing visually interesting about this movie, by design. I guess, like all of us, Aronofsky was attracted to Samuel Hunter’s study on how humans coping with problems. The best parts of The Whale revolve around the various ways tragedy affects normal people. Because loss sucks, it’s easier to find an outlet that lets you forget the pain. Charlie obviously chose eating, but some like Thomas and Liz, choose acts of service to keep their mind off their troubles. And then there are people like Ellie, who build up armor in the form of vicious exteriors design to hurt first so they don’t get hurt again. At some point though, those outlets can become destructive, in which case it is people who can help you confront your past tragedy so you can move past it. The Whale shows that help is a two way street: Liz on the surface is a wonderful friend, but she’s clearly an enabler, whereas Sadie Sink’s abrasive confrontational demeanor forces Charlie to really deal with his suffering, pushing him to where he’s been afraid to go.

But in the end of the day, The Whale would be an overrated melodrama where it not for this incredible cast, starting with Brendan Fraser. Even despite the incredible promise he showed as a younger man, I never thought I would witness Fraser act like this. This is a physical and emotional tour de force, completely capturing the essence of a broken but decent human being. Fraser takes the physical weight of the suit and turns it into an allegory for the emotional weight he carries, struggling to deal with the fractures that his life has become. The amazing Brendan also finds two incredible scene partners in Sadie Sink and Hong Chau. Like a bat out of the Upside Down, Sink bursts into the movie and gives it some necessary electricity. Even though the part veers into “writer creation” territory, Sink makes it her own by the end, delivering the emotional gut punches the ending needs. Chau is her opposite (and the opposite of her Menu character). The actress captures that exasperated dilemma at the heart of good natured friends: she wants to just support her friend, even though his choices could kill him. You feel her barely repressing her disdain and sadness at what has befallen Charlie, only to find composure at the last minute; it’s a great empathetic performance.

Chocolate and meatball subs can be tempting instead of dealing with sh*tty memories. Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale shows the consequences of unchecked temptation taking over your life, reminding everyone that a great friend can do more for your than chocolate or meatballs ever could. Now if we’re talking Pizza? Then it’s at least a conversation…

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