“The Whale” is directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Mother!) and stars Brendan Fraser (The Mummy, Crash), Sadie Sink (Stranger Things, The Glass Castle), Hong Chau (Downsizing, The Menu), Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3, Jurassic World), and Samantha Morton (John Carter, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). “The Whale” is based on a play by Samuel D. Hunter, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. This adaptation is about Charlie, an educator who teaches college courses online. As a result of losing his boyfriend, he has become reclusive and unhealthy to a point of great concern. Meanwhile, he attempts to reconnect with his daughter. Said daughter happens to be an individual he has not seen in person in years.
If I have seen a trailer for the “The Whale,” I would confirm it. But unless I missed it at a screening or I saw it once and could not retain it, I have yet to watch any marketing for “The Whale.” All I have heard about “The Whale” is that Brendan Fraser is great and he should be in the conversation for an Oscar. I may not be adding anything fresh by saying this, but he absolutely should be in said conversation.
That said, it should come as no surprise that my first positive with “The Whale” is that Branden Fraser’s performance is fantastic. I believed just about every second of what Fraser did on screen. In fact, if you want me to be frank, all the performances in the film are great. There are not many characters in this film, therefore everyone in the cast gets a chance to shine. Everyone from Brendan Fraser as Charlie to Sadie Sink as Ellie, Charlie’s daughter who had lived alone with her mom for years. Hong Chau is also great as Liz, a nurse who is the closest thing Charlie has to a friend. Every performance either floored me, compelled me, or at times, made my skin crawl.
Sadly, that last part of my statement, which in this case, is used as a positive, is something I would also use as a negative. This film emits a particular level of discomfort to the point where I do not see myself watching it a second time. The actors all do a great job in this film, and I mean everyone. Even a backseat character like Dan the Pizza Man, played by Sathya Sridharan, had my attention. The problem is the screenplay. The dialogue at times is cheesy, almost anger-inducing. The story itself has its ups and downs, but if there was not a part that felt oddly unhinged, there was one that came off as surprisingly predictable. Some of the characters themselves, despite being performed well, are not likable.
Despite what I said about Sadie Sink being a highlight of the film in terms of her performance, her character, Ellie, felt mean-spirited to the point of resembling a cartoon. If she gave off any particular vibe, she reminded me of Lil (Ariel Winter) from “The Last Movie Star,” another A24 movie I cannot recommend. From the first scene, Ellie starts off as an emotional wreck and this barely changes. There is a moment in this film where Charlie is struggling to move and Ellie just storms out the door. Sure, if you watch the scene, it is an early moment in the film where the two characters are not on the best terms, but regardless of how one feels about another personally, I do not see how Ellie could just leave. In this moment, Ellie just stands at the door, watching her father struggling to get off the couch, all the while knocking down a table. I am sorry, you lost me. What did she think, her father was putting on an act or something? Either way, in regard to Ellie, it gave me a terrible first impression.
Hong Chau gives a multi-dimensional performance as Liz. At one moment, she is frustrated at Charlie for refusing to go to the hospital, but in a split-second, her mood, believably, changes to that of someone with a warm heart. Chau’s sudden transitions feel seamless and do not interrupt the flow of the film whatsoever. Unlike Ellie, Liz is a somewhat respectable character and I felt attached to her, partially because she was a properly utilized voice of reason. Although if you want me to be real with you, if you want another Hong Chau film from this year to watch that is ten times better, do yourself a favor and skip “The Whale” and go watch “The Menu.” You will thank me later.
I do not mind depressing movies. Films like “Manchester by the Sea” stands out for how effectively its cast encapsulates a sense of unease throughout most of the runtime. “The Whale,” much like “Manchester by the Sea,” has a fantastic cast who play their characters to the best of their abilities. But in “Manchester by the Sea,” there are better characters and glimmers of entertainment that make the movie worth watching. “The Whale” is a film that tries to come off as depressing, but from my perspective, I see it as more frustrating than depressing. Because while the characters are depressed in “Manchester by the Sea,” I found myself enthused with the context of various scenes. As sadistic as this may sound, I enjoyed watching these characters going through their pain. I did not think it was a perfect movie, but it is certainly a watchable one. Unlike “The Whale,” I could see myself watching “Manchester by the Sea” another time. I have not done so since theaters, but even so, I could see myself putting it on the television in the future.
I have not seen the play which this film bases itself upon, but I could honestly imagine that is probably the better format for a story like this. Again, the performances carry the film, and I imagine that in a play version, they could be just as riveting. In addition, it is also set in one location, with most of it being set in Charlie’s living room. Sure, there are some moments that take place outside, but they are nevertheless within the confines of Charlie’s apartment. It is not like movies have not done the “one location” thing before, but even so, it provides an intimacy that would probably work best on a stage. Besides, you would might not have to change stuff around from one scene to another. Although I do like how the film was set in a 4:3 aspect ratio, as that adds to an intimate vibe in which the movie will occasionally nail.
In the end, “The Whale” is a lackluster story with annoying characters that feels somewhat surface level in regards to how it handles its serious subject matter. I could definitely see this film being a subject in acting classes, but that is one of the few notable things I can say about it. If it were not for Brendan Fraser and others in front of the camera carrying this film, it would probably not even be worth talking about. The acting is easily the best thing about “The Whale.” But just because you have great performances does not always mean you have a great narrative. My least favorite film of 2021, by a long shot, “Music,” has a pretty solid performance by Kate Hudson. But it is also a film that I would also consider terrible in addition to being downright offensive. While I would not consider “The Whale” to be as horrible as “Music,” it is not as good enough to give a second watch anytime soon. I should have left the theater crying out of sympathy for Charlie, but instead I left angry over the film’s final moments and how the writing nearly gave me a headache. I am going to give “The Whale” a 4/10.
“The Whale” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! To be frank, I do not know how many people are going to see “The Whale” by the end of the year. Although I am aware of another movie that has already earned a couple hundred million buck at the box office that a lot of people did see instead. And yes, I saw it too. For those who want to check it out, I have linked my review for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which coincidentally is another “whale” movie. If you want to see more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Whale?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite Brendan Fraser movie? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!