See The Whale just to watch consummate actors, Branden Fraser and Sadie Sink, playing father and daughter, furiously catch up with each other after years of separation. Set in Charlie’s apartment, just big enough for his morbidly huge body, The Whale is not only about the reconciliation of this odd couple and the survival of obese Charlie but rather about how obsession can consume faster than a greasy piece of pizza.
Besides his abuse of food, Charlie refuses to let the Zoomed-in students see him in his rolling flesh. Yet, he is not self-centered or food-obsessed enough not to care about others, especially his flinty daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink, so much like a young Ellen Page), for whom he writes college essays (he teaches writing) and saves for her over $100K. His heart is as big, well, as his body.
Writer Samuel D. Hunter (also author of the play) and director Darren Aronofsky move Charlie toward either reclamation or death; they remind us he did abandon normal life for a gay love, who eventually committed suicide, and over whom Charlie has not recovered. Good enough for Charlie to despair and abandon himself to food.
Ellie’s finishing high school is Charlie’s other obsession, and whether or not they all can survive their confrontation is the abiding suspense. Pervading the drama is a sense of regret in almost every character except maybe the pizza delivery boy, Dan (Sathya Sridharan). Even Charlie’s ex, Mary (excellent Samantha Morton), suffers the sorrows of their split family.
Hong Chau, who has had a great year, if only for her role in Triangle of Sadness, plays the gritty Liz, a caretaker for Charlie and true friend, regretting Charlie’s descent that allows no trips to the hospital and hides his money for his unstable daughter.
The itinerant Jesus fan, Thomas (Ty Simpkins), is food for another essay but for now an effective emblem of the intricate characters supporting Charlie’s journey. Herman Melville lends figurative richness to the proceedings. If I haven’t convinced you of the gold in this small film about a big man, go see it to witness my prediction that Fraser will win Globes and Oscar.
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Black Swan, The Wrestler)
Screenplay: Samuel D. Hunter, based on the play by
Cast: Brendan Fraser (The Mummy, Journey to the Center of the Earth)
Run Time: 1h 57m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com