Greystones Film Club: The Whale

The Whale (USA/16/116mins)

Given its potentially sensationalist and exploitative subject matter – a morbidly obese shut-in looking to do one good thing with his life before his imminent demise – it’s hardly surprising that The Whale has divided critics.

No one seems to doubt the power of Brendan Fraser’s performance in the leading role, or the directing, the writing, the supporting cast…

They just have a problem with a premise that might be more voyeuristic than altruistic.

That The Whale started out as a play ten years earlier with writer Samuel D. Hunter and enjoyed four major productions across the US since whilst suffering few slings or arrows suggests that having Hollywood turn its electric eye on this tale changed the perspective. Which is a shame, given that, once you get over that initial feeling that you could be watching a Channel 5 exclamation mark TV documentary, The Whale has a slow-burning emotional centre that gradually builds to a punch. Or two.

Fraser plays Charlie, a 600-pound man hiding from the world in his apartment and making his living as an English professor working online and keeping his laptop camera firmly switched off. His only companionship is Liz (Hong Chau), who’s more than a nurse – she’s also the sister of Charlie’s late partner, Alan.
Refusing to spend the money on doctors and hospitals, Charlie is moving ever-faster to an early grave, much to Liz’s anger and objections. Realising he’s Elvis ’77 heading for Elvis ’78, Charlie reaches out to his estranged teenage daughter, Ellie (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink), in the hope of reconnecting, having walked out of the family home when she was just five to be with Alan.

Throw in a young missionary (Ty Simpkins) for the New Life Church determined to save Charlie’s soul, and it doesn’t take long for The Whale to go Full Mamet.
It’s the small details about being this big, this helpless, this frightened, this alone, that The Whale captures so well. Fraser has deservedly won two major awards for his performance already, and there’s a possible Oscar on the way come March 12th. Having long been off Hollywood’s radar (hitting hit the box-office heights with 1997’s George Of The Jungle and The Mummy franchise soon after), the man cried when he got a standing ovation at the film’s premiere in Venice last September. For some, Fraser’s return is a big part of The Whale’s appeal, but the entire cast (Samantha Morton also swings by) is uniformly wonderful.

Playing at The Whale on Thursday, April 13th at 8pm, tickets are €12, and you can grab yours here.

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