Life & Culture

The Whale film review: Obesity in the post-Covid era

Brendan Fraser makes a great comeback playing a reclusive, overweight professor trying to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter


Brendan Fraser in a scene from "The Whale."

The Whale
Cert: 15| ★★★✩✩

After years in the film industry wilderness, actor Brendan Fraser is making one hell of a comeback with many hoping he might finally take home that elusive Best Actor prize at next month’s Academy Awards.

Starring in Jewish filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s latest film The Whale, Fraser plays a morbidly obese man attempting to repair his relationship with his estranged teenage daughter.

Reclusive English professor Charlie (Fraser) has spent years hidden from the world, with Liz (played to perfection by The Menu star Hong Chau), his nurse-cum-best friend, the only person allowed inside his life.

Unwilling to leave his house, Charlie teaches online college writing courses but keeps his webcam switched off.

As Charlie’s health deteriorates, his peace is one day disturbed by Thomas, a young Christian missionary who wants to save his soul.

While it’s undeniable that Fraser puts in a great performance, the same can’t be said about Aronofsky’s execution. The director of Back Swan and Mother! delivers an overly sentimental and at times, ill-judged adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s 2012 play of the same name.

The Whale has a distinct post-Covid feel, in an era where productions had to be smaller in order to see the light of day, but anyone accustomed to Aronofsky’s earlier, more elaborate output, is sure to struggle with it.

The film is nevertheless saved by yet another outstanding performance by the brilliant Samantha Morton, starring here as Charlie’s long-suffering, hard-drinking ex-wife Mary.

When it first played at the Venice Film Festival, The Whale received a five-minute standing ovation. I suspect that most of that applause was aimed at Fraser’s masterful performance rather than this lacklustre offering from a director who is definitely capable of far more challenging things.

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