London Film Festival 2022: The Whale – ★★★★★

All London Film Festival 2022 reviews will be written by the wonderfully talented and massive film fan Brigitte Krause. You can follow her on Twitter – @TheBrigitteEdit.

Brendan Fraser is returning to the big screen, and he couldn’t have chosen a more divisive story to tell. Unless you have lived under a rock the past few weeks, maybe even months, you’ve heard the praise for ‘The Mummy’ star. I, for one, am glad we have him back.

Based on Samuel D. Hunter’s play by the same name, the story follows Charlie (Fraser), a reclusive teacher suffering from severe obesity, and the only way he can teach his students is via online classes. We meet him in his life where doing the basic things is a struggle. His friend Liz (Hong Chau) visits him daily to keep him company and bring him food. Plus, he has a daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), with whom he has a distanced relationship.

This is an adaptation of a stage play because it’s set out like a stage, with dimmed lighting and one location, the living room, where we see characters exit and rejoin scenes throughout the film.

It’s not always easy to adapt play’s to screen, sometimes one does it successfully, and sometimes one fails. I will only speak of the director Aronofsky here, but I believe even he mentioned that it was all about the lighting, camera and the performances, and I couldn’t agree more.

The fact that Aronofsky can direct this in a way to hold your attention throughout until the final scene while being shot in a single location is remarkable in itself.

I felt the true essence of this film is connection and love, the kind that exists between friends and outside of relationships, the people that get to know you over time. The film can make you part of that experience because it wasn’t until a few emotional scenes and the final moments that I noticed how close I got to the character myself. Ultimately this is where ‘The Whale’ excels for me.

Image via A24

Fraser’s devastating and humane performance is being rightly talked about and at the end of my screening received a five-minute standing ovation. Meanwhile, Sink – is proving to be one of the ‘Stranger Things’ cast members we must keep a close eye on – was able to convey the angry teenager and the abandoned daughter incredibly well.

One of my favourite characters in the film is Chau’s Liz, who gets closest to the viewer’s experience. She is compassionate towards her friend but equally frustrated and angry because he isn’t willing to get better (for reasons we get to uncover during the story). I resonated a lot with her emotions towards Charlie.

When I think of ‘The Whale’, I think of the story as a whole. The staging and the performances, but also some scenes that will forever be ingrained in my brain and to be honest, I will think of them in deep sadness.

‘The Whale’ won’t be for everyone, but I believe if you go into this with an open mind, willing to listen to the characters and what the story is trying to tell you, you have already won.

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton.
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Run time: 1h 57min

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