This is Brendan Fraser’s much ballyhooed comeback film, in which he plays Charlie, an extremely obese man struggling to stay alive and reconcile with the mistakes he has made in his life. It is based on Samuel D Hunter’s 2012 play of the same name, for which he also serves as screenwriter here. It has only 5 characters in the story, which takes place over a week, with the set entirely confined to Charlie’s small home.
Watching The Whale feels more like watching a stage play than a film because the entire film focuses on the actors and their performances with no distractions from strange camera angles or extended flashback sequences. But here is where I actually had the most “issue” with. I get the impression that what I’m watching is a performance, and I didn’t connect with the characters as real people dealing with real problems. The drama felt heavy handed, and the supporting cast’s performances felt calculated and exaggerated, much like how a live performance can sometimes feel when players have to “overact” in order to provide their presence to the live audience. The tight confines of the set limit the characters’ movements, and they are frequently made to simply move from one corner of the room to the other, or get up and down from their seat, or storm in and out of the door, in an unnatural and distracting manner. It also felt odd that we have these characters suddenly appearing off and on throughout the time, making the whole thing feel very fabricated and plot driven.
Brendan Fraser at least distinguished himself with an excellent performance as the protagonist, and he naturally steals the show. At the very least, he stays in his seat the majority of the time. He also has the advantage of having to give a physical performance as well as an emotional one, as we see him struggle with his obesity. To appear acutely obese, he had to wear a heavy fat suit and make-up that looked very uncomfortable. I can see why he is receiving so many accolades for such a brave and difficult role. Too bad the overall movie felt less inspiring.