The return of Brendan Fraser to acting prominence is one of the more heartwarming pop-culture stories of 2022. He seems like a swell fella, and he still has a lot to contribute.
As for the film that returned him to prominence: The Whale doesn’t supply the dramatic heft for which his performance calls. Adapted from a play and showing those seams every step of the way thanks to its clumsy staging, the movie feels artificial. Fraser acts his butt off, and it’s noteworthy work, but the movie isn’t the emotional triumph it’s trying to be.
Fraser plays Charlie, an obese virtual teacher wasting away in a small home, alienated from the world and his family. He’s going through the final stages of congestive heart failure, and he is refusing medical help despite the pleas of his caregiver, Liz (Hong Chau). He gets strange visits from Thomas the missionary (Ty Sympkins) and struggles to have a relationship with his estranged, troubled daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink).
Other than Fraser, who is covered in extensive prosthetics and visual effects, nothing in this film really works, especially the plot element involving Thomas the missionary. He feels like one of those cardboard-cutout characters that, for whatever reason, would work better on a stage than in a movie.
Director Darren Aronofsky, normally quite reliable, has a hard time making the story elements work as a convincing piece. It all feels very “stagey.”
By the time the story reaches its conclusion, it lacks any real impact, and it actually winds up feeling like a slight rip-off of the superior Michael Keaton vehicle Birdman (in that a father and daughter have a confrontation with an inevitable conclusion).
Credit Fraser for giving a decent performance through those cumbersome prosthetics. The ballyhoo around his work in the movie is justified. Celebrating the film itself … not so much.