Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Whale (2022)


Morbidly obese and nearing the end of his life, English teacher Charlie (Brendan Fraser) stays at home with a laptop in one hand and a sandwich in the other. The limited mobility brought about by his condition requires constant help which Liz (Hong Chau), a nurse who is also his only friend, unconditionally provides. Their relationship is not smooth-sailing, though, especially after he constantly refuses her prodding to go to the hospital to seek medical help. What she doesn’t know is that he is in constant communication with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) lately, promising he would give her his lifetime savings if she spends time with and writes essays for him. Their already complicated dynamics are further shaken up by the arrival of Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a Christian missionary who firmly believes that he can provide the spiritual guidance that Charlie is in dire need of, despite Liz’s objection.

Both Sadie Sink and Hong Chau offer solid support to Fraser, who couldn’t have pulled this off alone despite his award-worthy performance. The difference is that the former is unfortunately constrained by the box her character is placed in, namely that of the rebellious teenage daughter whose main storyline is to be insufferable to everyone around her, despite her backstory being made perfectly clear. The good thing about this is how Sink leaves an impression. From now on, she will no longer be just that girl shoehorned in Stranger Things to serve as a foil for Millie Bobby Brown. Consider this her breakthrough.

If anything, it is Hong Chau who steals everyone’s thunder. Hers is the perfect example of a supporting character who does not appear much but lights up the screen every time she does that you just start missing her whenever she isn’t there. Her backstory is a lot juicier than Sink’s and the performance is nothing short of stellar. Every scream and grimace is a palpable showcase of emotions that makes you stop, look, and listen. Even so, this is also the kind of performance that gets nominated across the board but never wins. It still is a good way to turn hers into a household name moving forward.

As for Fraser, he has always been the frontrunner this awards season. Not only did he get a meaty role he can sink his fangs on, but he also has the perfect Hollywood comeback story just about anyone can rally behind. He has been away from the limelight for so long despite being a constant fixture in films in the late 90’s, and he couldn’t have found a more suitable comeback vehicle. As Charlie, the makeup and costume help a lot in establishing the character, although he does lend a legit emotional and psychological layer that makes us empathize with his character more.

As for the issue of obesity, this is not really a documentary, but it does offer a glimpse of what it is like to live with such an acute stage of the condition. Maybe in the end, it is not really about the accuracy of what is shown onscreen or the empathy that it tries to elicit from you, but rather the metaphor about life itself as well as the play on the literal and figurative way of life weighing you down and how you tend to deal with it as a human being.

Perhaps the downside of The Whale is that it is a Darren Aronofsky film through and through. His films can be difficult to watch because of the focus on the psychological aspect, but once you catch what it is that he is actually trying to imply, then that’s when the appreciation comes in. As for the narrative itself and how it unfolds, I couldn’t help but think about how good a Broadway play this could be considering the limited setting and the interesting script. Perhaps they can adapt this on Broadway and have the cast perform it live on stage? Hey, if they can rack up Oscar noms, why not Tony’s, right?

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