The Whale’s cast shines in this heartbreaking play adapted to screen

-Brenda Hillegas

Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is a severely obese English teacher who lives alone and relies on teaching virtually to students (with the camera off). It seems his only contact with the world outside of his apartment is long-time friend and now caregiver, Liz (Hong Chau) and the food delivery drivers. Charlie knows he is dying and has no interest in seeking help. living with severe obesity who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption. Starring Brendan Fraser and based on the acclaimed play by Samuel D. Hunter.

With direction by Darren Aronofsky and A24 as distributor, The Whale was a must on my list this season. Add in the outstanding return of Brendan Fraser, of course, and this film has already become one of the most talked about movies of the year. The screenplay by Samuel D. Hunter is adapted from his Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel awards winning play of the same name. The film version is similar with a limited set- we are all confined to Charlie’s second floor apartment in Idaho- and a small cast that comes in and out of Charlie’s daily life.

The audience learns early on that Charlie’s boyfriend died and his ex-wife (played briefly by Samantha Morton) and teenage daughter, Ellie (outstanding performance by Sadie Sink) resent him for abandoning their family so many years ago to be with this man. Charlie knows he doesn’t have much time left and will do anything to make amends with Ellie. She’s failing school and angry at the world, but begrudgingly lets her father step in to do the work. Rounding out the cast and storyline is a young missionary, Thomas, played by Ty Simpkins. Ellie tries to break him down while Charlie is reluctant to believe anything he says. There is a connection that unfolds, though.

The movie is tough to watch overall, as we are viewing Charlie eat himself to death. His daughter’s comments about his weight and his life are heartbreaking to hear and Fraser’s silent reactions will make you forget this is just a character. He’s absolutely incredible in this performance. Despite the sadness that consumes this story, The Whale is worth watching for the performances on screen. Every single cast member could be in the running for an Oscar nomination and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Aronofsky is a master of disturbing scenes that hit you psychologically. The Whale is well done in that regard.

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