I suspect that has more to do with Fraser’s personal story than the one that keeps this stagey and relentlessly miserable adaptation of Samuel D Hunter’s play ticking over. By all accounts, the former George Of The Jungle hunk is a very likeable chap. And, after his life was derailed by an alleged sexual assault in 2003, the Academy may want to give this comeback story a happy ending.
Charlie (Fraser in a fat suit) can barely move around his airless Idaho apartment which he – and, it turns out, we – can never leave.
He teaches literature to students by Zoom, keeping the camera off so he can stuff his face with buckets of greasy fried chicken without making them gag (Aronofsky doesn’t extend us the same courtesy).
Charlie has a chronic heart condition and desperately needs to stop eating if he wants to survive the week. Ideally, he needs to be in hospital, but he has no medical insurance and doesn’t want to run up a bill.
So, whenever his overworked ticker plays up, he rings his long-suffering best friend (Hong Chau) who is available to rush over at all times while holding down a job as a nurse.
Other characters keep rocking up. There’s a church missionary (Ty Simpkins) who wants to save Charlie’s soul, and his angry ex-wife (Samantha Morton) and shrill teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink). Charlie abandoned Ellie when she was eight but is desperate to make up with her before he dies.
His reasons for leaving her, and the root causes of his obesity, are revealed in the film’s talky confrontations.
Fraser is impressive, imbuing Aronofsky’s theatrical staging with filmic moments. His sad eyes and strained smiles skillfully make us root for an unlikely character.
Is good acting a big enough reward for sitting through this punishing film?
That depends on the individual. It seems my compassion has its limits.
- The Whale, Cert 15, is in cinemas now