Movie Review: The Whale

Director Darren Aronofsky has done one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen (Mother with Jennifer Lawrence), and one of the best (The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke). And in The Wrestler, he tackled a few of the same themes he addresses in this movie: a man who has seen better days, and a troubled father/daughter relationship. 

Charlie (Brendan Fraser) lives in an apartment in Idaho, teaching writing classes online. He’s dealing with grief, having lost his lover, Allen, and he seems to be eating to the point of death. In fact, his friend and nurse Liz (Hong Chau), tells him that if he doesn’t go to the hospital, he’ll be dead within the week (and when we see the day of each week on the top of the screen, we seem to know where this is going). I actually preferred Chau’s performance over the much more heralded Brendan Fraser comeback. She’s terrific, dealing with a range of emotions. There’s one scene with her lecturing a young man on the porch, while smoking a cigarette, that should be shown in acting classes. I also liked the one scene we get with ex-wife Mary (Samantha Morton). She’s incredible.

When daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) is introduced, there are problems. She’s a complete jerk, and there’s no nuance to the character. Screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter was probably proud of himself for the parallels between Moby Dick and Charlie, but sometimes that just sinks the script. I felt a lot of this would be more powerful as a stage play (which it actually was).

Things get interesting when a missionary named Thomas (Ty Simpkins) from New Life church shows up.

It’s frustrating to watch sometimes, as Liz seems to enable his eating choices, bringing him a couple meatball sandwiches, and other food items on different days. When we find something else out about Charlie, it makes me think – this isn’t the best person in the world. It doesn’t mean we’re not still rooting for him to get it all together and go to the hospital. 

When we see the pleasure he gets from watching the birds outside his window, or reading a paper someone wrote about Moby Dick, it really gets you. 

At times, it felt like we were watching misery porn, and on one hand, isn’t this exploiting a fat character and how he looks? It also gets a bit repetitive. I mean, how many times do I need to see him ordering pizzas? I also feel the film’s conflicts are contrived and that it would have benefitted from a more realistic take on the characters.

My wife absolutely hated this movie. Despite all its flaws, I still enjoyed it. It’s hard to recommend, despite the two incredible performances by Fraser and Chau. It’s just such a downer (although I felt uplifted by the ending).

2 ½ stars out of 5.

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