Director: Darren Aronofsky
Talent: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton
Release Date: February 3
Brendan Fraser makes his much-ballyhooed return with The Whale, a film of Samuel D. Hunter’s play of the same name. The star, much beloved of a certain generation, plays Charlie, a 600-pound Literature teacher who learns that he is in the process of cardiac arrest. His attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink) become the focus of his last days – an effort to find meaning in life, just as he is about to depart. If this sounds maudlin, that’s because it is, and while Fraser is certainly doing a lot, none of it comes close to the pathos and grandeur of Mickey Rourke’s turn in Aronofsky’s thematically similar The Wrestler (2008).
Secondary characters include Liz (Hong Chau), with whom Charlie shares a peculiar, dependant relationship; missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins), whose credulity-snapping backstory complicates the plot; and Charlie’s ex-wife Mary, a clenched fist of rage and disappointment played by – who else? – Samantha Morton. They all seem to be acting in different, if similarly overwrought, films.
The action consists of characters knocking on Charlie’s door, making or listening to speeches, and then walking out again. This kind of stage-bound fidelity might work in the service of a great play (although even Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opened things up a little), but here it scans as bad cinema and bad theatre. Hunter’s dialogue is clunky, his reaches for poetry thin gruel – too contrived for naturalism, too superficial for allegory. An attempt to set up a resonance between Charlie’s story and that of Moby-Dick stubbornly refuses to take.
Whatever the deficits of the material, Aronofsky is usually a flamboyant filmmaker. Here, he limits himself to a few showy camera moves, and a saccharine score by Rob Simonson. The last scene offers a lone surreal flourish, and the result is eye-wateringly tacky.
Words – David Turpin