Is Brendan Fraser’s much-hyped film any good?

The whale ★★★
(M) 117 minutes

Robert De Niro, Christian Bale and Charlize Theron are among the many stars who have given Oscar-worthy performances in roles that required radical physical transformation.

Some have achieved this with extraordinary weight-loss or weight-gain feats — or they’ve had the help of prosthetics, which is where Brendan Fraser’s Oscar-nominated turn hits The whale come in.

Brendan Fraser's naturally sweet nature shines through in The Whale, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.

Brendan Fraser’s naturally sweet nature shines through in The Whale, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.

He plays Charlie, a chronically obese online English teacher on the verge of a fatal heart attack. All he wants before he dies is to reconnect with the daughter he had to abandon when his love for another man ended his marriage to her mother. The subsequent death of his beloved has left him deep in sorrow, but he wishes to rid himself of guilt by telling his daughter that he never stopped loving her.

No one says Fraser donned a big suit for the role. For one, the term would draw more criticism from activists sensitive to what they perceive to be a disparagement of obesity. On the other hand, the term is far from sufficient to describe the suit that Fraser has so spectacularly puffed up. It’s a piece of engineering so sophisticated that there’s a high risk it will eclipse Fraser and become the star of the show.

Luckily he’s too good for that. The strength of his performance lies in the good-natured quality that has enlivened so much of his work over the years, and which shines so brightly that his rare appearances as a villain came as a shock.

Sadie Sink chooses the obnoxiousness of playing Brendan Fraser's daughter in The Whale.

Sadie Sink chooses the obnoxiousness of playing Brendan Fraser’s daughter in The Whale.

Charlie means well enough that he even apologizes for wanting to die. The problems of the film are not his. They begin with its origins as a play by Samuel D. Hunter, who adapted it for the screen at the request of Darren Aronofsky, a director who specializes in dealing with emotional extremes. In Aronofsky’s breakthrough film Requiem for a DreamTragedy fused with horror story and the same goes for Black Swanhis overwrought interpretation of the obsession found in the world of ballet.

There’s no horror here, but the film’s claustrophobic atmosphere doesn’t just stem from its closed environment. The pace is so monotonous, and Charlie’s small group of visitors burst through the front door so regularly, that during rush hour his living room resembles a bus depot. Is Brendan Fraser’s much-hyped film any good?

Jaclyn Diaz

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