Brendan Fraser delivers a remarkable performance in the title role of Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, adapted from his play by Samuel D. Hunter.
Before we even glimpse his gigantic, 600-pound frame, we hear his gentle voice, teaching an English literature class on-line. It’s Monday – and while Charlie can see his students via Zoom, his image is blank.
Suffering from imminent heart failure, pathetic Charlie (Fraser) is house-bound, barely able to maneuver to the bathroom with the aid of a walker. As the week progresses, each day, Liz (Hong Chau), his caregiver/trusted friend comes to visit, checking on his declining health and bringing him food.
Grief-stricken Charlie is still mourning the suicide of his gay partner and obviously eating-himself-to-death to conclude a torment that is amplified by the anger of his estranged, irreverent teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) who cannot understand why he abandoned her.
Persistently intruding into Charlie’s isolation and his few pleasurable moments masturbating to gay porn, Thomas (Ty Simpkins) is a misguided New Life missionary who refuses to stop appearing on his front porch. Then, eventually, there’s the appearance of Charlie’s still-ambivalent ex-wife (Samantha Morton).
Encased in a latex suit with digital prosthetics, designed by Adrien Morot, Fraser’s portrayal is inevitably minimalist, a choice that exudes pathos, even when he’s gobbling greasy pizza or devouring a bucket of fried chicken.
Charlie’s guilt-tinged love is summarized when he says: “I just want to know I did one good thing in my life!”
Absent from the screen for several years, Fraser was involved in a 2003 sexual harassment case. In an interview with GQ magazine, he said he was groped by Philip Berk, former head of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.; Berk denied the allegation but admitted to pinching Fraser’s rear as a joke.
Now, Fraser adroitly demonstrates how his impressive talent, previously demonstrated in Gods and Monsters, was perhaps wasted in George of the Jungle and Mummy movies.
Best known for Black Swan, The Wrestler, and Requiem for a Dream, director Darren Aronofsky is obviously drawn to dark stories, venturing this time into the agonizingly grotesque as chronicled by cinematographer Matthew Libatique.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Whale is an empathetic yet soulful 7 – playing in theaters.