Overview | ‘The Whale’: Brendan Fraser is nice, the film not a lot



(1.5 stars)

It’s inconceivable — and, frankly, surpassingly uncharitable — to not root for Brendan Fraser, one in every of Hollywood’s most likable actors, whose comeback has been one of the crucial heartening film tales of 2022. However admiring Fraser’s efficiency as a person paralyzed by grief and self-loathing in “The Whale” doesn’t essentially imply liking the film he’s in. Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play is a murky-looking, claustrophobic train in emotionalism at its most trite and ostentatiously maudlin.

Brendan Fraser’s comeback says much less about him than it says about us

Fraser performs Charlie, a web-based writing instructor who as “The Whale” opens is assembly together with his class on Zoom; not like his college students, he’s a black field — in additional methods than one. A 600-pound recluse, Charlie has been rendered nearly immobilized by disgrace, itself the results of numbing the losses of his life in trancelike binge-eating periods. Performed by Fraser with the help of prosthetics and a 300-pound “fats go well with,” Charlie is obsessive about “Moby-Dick” — a recurring motif of the film facilities on a pupil’s paper in regards to the novel that he particularly admires — however is he the elusive leviathan or Captain Ahab, set upon vanquishing his personal delusions? It’s a tantalizing thematic conundrum, made extra promising when Charlie’s nurse Liz (Hong Chau) pays a go to. She and a motley group of misfits and wanderers will fetch up at Charlie’s cramped condo over the following few days, like so many crew members of the Pequod. (Aronofsky has filmed “The Whale” with squared-off framing, making the partitions seem to be they’re continually closing in.)

At first look, “The Whale” appears to be like prefer it’s proper up Aronofsky’s alley as a personality examine on par together with his 2008 drama “The Wrestler,” to not point out a queasily candid portrait of dependancy paying homage to 2000’s “Requiem for a Dream.” This requiem for a heavyweight doesn’t attain these heights of realism or depths of compassion, nevertheless, as Charlie veers from being a completely sympathetic protagonist to an object of voyeuristic pity and nearly zoolike fascination.

Within the 1995 movie “Leaving Las Vegas,” Nicolas Cage performed a person decided to drink himself to demise. Right here, Charlie’s on the identical course, besides that he’s drowning his existential sorrows in buckets of fried hen, sweet bars, pizza and whipped cream. The consuming scenes in “The Whale” are staged with horrified element, the sound design tuned to intensify each gloppy slurp. Aronofsky and Hunter depart little to the creativeness, emphasizing at each graphic flip that, for Charlie, meals isn’t the stuff of life-giving nourishment, however a vector for compulsion and self-annihilation.

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It’s a pathetic type of pageantry that, at its worst, feels shamefully exploitative, at the same time as Fraser imbues Charlie with the tenderness and dignity the most effective actors know they owe their characters. His interactions with Chau, because the spiky however sincerely loving Liz, crackle with the sort of deadpan gallows humor that comes from real intimacy. However as extra outsiders enter Charlie’s world, the dialogue turns into more and more strident and talky. A pivotal second with a younger lady performed by Sadie Sink performs at an insufferably harsh and hysterical pitch; the too-pat dialogue, mixed with an orgiastic rock-bottom scene, lastly undercuts no matter genuine feeling Fraser succeeded in build up, a way of falsity that culminates in a literalistic misfire of a closing picture.

Like “The Banshees of Inisherin,” during which playwright Martin McDonagh goes to comparable extremes to make what change into comparatively unremarkable factors about existential distress, radical acceptance and human connection, it may very well be that “The Whale” is just too stagy a premise to work on movie. Aronofsky’s facility with each gritty realism and visionary fever desires can’t elevate materials that desires to bear witness to struggling however reflexively reverts to manipulative spectacle. “The Whale” would possibly begin out being a couple of man struggling to interrupt freed from his corporeal and non secular bonds. Nevertheless it’s Fraser’s good, humane, weak efficiency that too usually appears trapped, on this case by a movie whose mawkishness so oppressively weighs him down.

R. At space theaters. Accommodates coarse language, some drug use and sexual materials. 117 minutes.


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