The Whale: movie review round-up of new Darren Aronofsky film starring Brendan Fraser and Sadie Sink

‘Like a very serious male version of the ’Fat Monica’ prom video scene in Friends’
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Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale has had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival.

And with critics finally getting their eyes on the long-awaited film - which stars Brendan Fraser as a reclusive and obese English teacher attempting to connect with his estranged teenage daughter - the first reviews are coming in.

So, is The Whale another Oscar contender for director Aronofsky, and the start of a Brendan Fraser renaissance - a ‘Brenaissance’ if you will - or will the movie be beached when it hits cinemas later this year?

Here’s what the reviewers are saying:

‘Fraser richly deserves to be nominated for a best actor Oscar’ - Nicholas Barber, BBC

The BBC’s Nicholas Barber is so convinced that Fraser should be in contention for an Oscar come awards season, that if he isn’t nominated, the reviewer “won't just eat my hat, I'll eat as many pizzas and cheese-and-meatball sandwiches as Charlie gets through in the film.”

A future of high-cholestoral may await Barber yet, as the critic ultimately awards The Whale just three stars, and says that “for a film that opens with a 40-stone man suffering chest spasms after masturbating to online pornography, The Whale turns out to be disappointingly stodgy and sentimental.”

But Fraser’s performance could still win out, fighting through the cloying, claustrophobic staginess of a film adapted from a play just as much as the actor must battle “the biggest ‘fat suit’ since Terry Jones exploded in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.”

“There's a remarkable nimbleness to his facial movements and a soulful gentleness to his voice,” says Barber, “but it's his wide, pleading, hopeful blue eyes that make it hard to imagine anyone else being as captivating in the role.”

‘This sucrose film is very underpowered’ - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Peter Bradshaw over at The Guardian again praises Fraser’s performance, but once again notes how it is surrounded by a “vapid, hammy and stagey movie,” eventually awarding The Whale just two stars.

He calls the film the Venice Film Festival’s “biggest and most surprising disappointment”, saying “the writing clunks; the narrative is contrived and unconvincing and the whole film has a strange pass-agg body language.”

But the leading actor again draws positive comment, with Bradshaw saying “Fraser brings a definite gentleness and openness to the role of Charlie”, but though “his performance is good... it is upstaged by the showy latex and the special effect.

“Like a very serious male version of the ’Fat Monica’ prom video scene in Friends.”

(Photo: A24)(Photo: A24)
(Photo: A24)

‘It’ll be no surprise if Darren Aronofsky’s psychological drama wins a hatful of awards’ - Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent

The Independent’s review draws attention to the same staginess that other critics have poured scorn upon, but Geoffrey Macnab seems to take a different approach in his opinions.

Watching the “stagy and mawkish” film - which Macnab awards four stars - “you feel grossly manipulated”, but “the approach is undeniably effective.”

Director Aronofsky “goes so far out of his way to portray Charlie in the early scenes as a repulsive bum that it’s inevitable the character’s better qualities will soon emerge,” and “Fraser retains the genial qualities which made him so popular with audiences in mainstream 1990s movies.

“At times, you wonder why a filmmaker as sophisticated as Aronofsky is resorting to such manipulative tactics. Beneath all its blubber, though, this turns out to be a film with a very big heart.”

‘It is possible to be happy for a Brendan Fraser ‘Brenaissance’ and still think this is closed-circuit claptrap’ - Brian Formo, Collider

Brian Formo from Collider hopes that Fraser’s comeback isn’t halted by his latest film, which the reviewer describes as “ inorganic, gimmicky” and “manipulative.”

That’s likely due to the film’s origins as a stage play - from which it has been adapted for the big screen - which sees The Whale contained to the single setting of Charlie’s apartment.

“Single-setting films can definitely feel cinematic and bigger than the location due to well-written characters,” says Formo. “But the characters in The Whale only speak direct wants, needs, and desires every moment they are on screen. It does not feel organic or real.”

Despite “what the Internet might be broadcasting”, Formo hopes it is still “possible to be happy for a Brendan Fraser ‘Brenaissance’ and still think this is closed-circuit claptrap.”

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