The Whale Is 'Heavy, Indeed'

Brendan Fraser stars as morbidly obese recluse
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 9, 2022 1:00 PM CST

Brendan Fraser is being tipped for a best actor Oscar for his performance in The Whale, for which he donned a fatsuit to play Charlie, a morbidly obese English literature teacher whose eating got out of control after the death of his same-sex partner and who never leaves his apartment. The film, directed by Darren Aronofsky, and adapted for the screen by Samuel D. Hunter from his play of the same name, currently has a score of 70% at Rotten Tomatoes and 62 at Metacritic. Critics are divided on the movie—strongly positive or strongly negative reviews outnumber those on the fence about it. Four takes:

  • Mark Kennedy, AP. Kennedy was one of many reviewers with qualms about the depiction of Charlie's condition—he feels scenes like those where Charlie is "covered in sweat and shoving pizza or fried chicken into his mouth" could have "been touched on instead of lingered on." But Hunter is "exploring salvation, redemption, determinism, and family" and the underlying issue could as easily have been cancer or alcoholism, writes Kennedy, who describes Fraser's performance as one of the most moving in years. "This is a film that stays with you and changes you," he writes. "It is heavy, indeed."

  • AO Scott, New York Times. Fraser "gives a performance that is sometimes disarmingly graceful. He uses his voice and his big, sad eyes to convey a delicacy at odds with the character’s corporeal grossness," Scott writes. "But nearly everything about Charlie—the sound of his breathing, the way he eats, moves and perspires—underlines his abjection, to an extent that starts to feel cruel and voyeuristic." The movie takes place over the course of a week, with visitors to Charlie's apartment including a nurse, played by Hong Chau; a missionary, played by Ty Simpkins; Charlie's ex-wife, played by Samantha Morton; and his estranged daughter, played by Sadie Sink. There's also a bird that shows up at his window. "I’m not an ornithologist, but my guidebook identifies it as a Common Western Metaphor," Scott writes.
  • David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter. "With its airless single setting and main character whose dire health crisis makes the ticking clock on his life apparent from the start, The Whale seemed a tricky prospect for screen transfer," but Aronofsky and Hunter have succeeded, Rooney writes. The movie "never disguises its stage roots but transcends them with the grace and compassion of the writing and the layers of pain and despair, love, and dogged hope peeled back in the central performance," writes Rooney, who praises the "inextinguishable humanity" of Fraser's performance.

  • Anthony Lane, New Yorker. The Whale is "laughably earnest" and "larded with melodrama," Lane writes. "The film presents us with obesity as tragedy, and as a preventable scourge inflicted on the hero by a hostile and traumatizing world," writes Lane, who describes it as "a self-regarding drama of self-loathing: hardly the most appetizing prospect." He adds: "If it proves nonetheless to be stirringly watchable, we have Brendan Fraser to thank. Returning to the spotlight, he continues to radiate an essential sweetness of nature."
(Check out other movie reviews.)

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