Brendan Fraser’s ‘Oscar-worthy’ role

The key difference between the two projects is that The Wrestler had so much grit and dynamism, whereas The Whale, which is adapted by Samuel D Hunter from his own play, never lets you forget its theatrical origins. That’s not just because Aronofsky chooses to shoot it simply, on one unconvincing set. It’s also because it retains the pacing, structure and conventions of a solid but clichéd melodrama. The staginess is there in the way that the characters take it in turns to visit Charlie and have polished, thematically relevant conversations with him, the way that so many people conveniently enter his life within a week-long time span, and the way that they conveniently reveal the hidden connections between them. 

For a film that opens with a 40-stone man suffering chest spasms after masturbating to online pornography, The Whale turns out to be disappointingly stodgy and sentimental. Charlie talks – and talks and talks – about the importance of honesty in writing, but much of this well-meaning redemption story is too corny to ring true – the cynical daughter, in particular. And when Fraser makes his impassioned, tearful speech towards the end, as the camera holds his face and syrupy strings drip all over the soundtrack, it is almost a parody of the clips that are shown at awards ceremonies when the nominations are read out.

Still, parodic or not, this sequence is definitely going to be used a lot in the months to come. Fraser richly deserves to be nominated for a best actor Oscar, and if that doesn’t happen, I won’t just eat my hat, I’ll eat as many pizzas and cheese-and-meatball sandwiches as Charlie gets through in the film. The Brenaissance is here.


The Whale is released in the US on 9 December

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