The Whale Movie Review: Brendan Fraser’s Comeback Film is a Disaster

Brendan Fraser cannot save Darren Aronofsky's The Whale from being another exploitative and contemptuous drama that shames fat people instead of exuding an ounce of sympathy for them.
The Whale

Many actors deserve the world. On the top of the list is Brendan Fraser. When he was cast in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move, and HBO Max’s Batgirl, it looked like his career would jumpstart to the heights he experienced in the mid-90s to early-2000s, with many internet users dubbing it the “Brendanaissance.” But, unfortunately, we won’t see Batgirl, and Fraser’s part in No Sudden Move was pretty limited to impacting the story and the film itself.

The buzz for The Whale was extremely strong, with the film having received a six-minute-long standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival when it premiered and critics coming out of the screenings stating that Fraser will essentially have his Oscar handed on a silver platter. Unfortunately, and as much as I root for Fraser to eventually get an Oscar, his performance in The Whale is one of the worst he’s given in his career, in a film so full of itself that a ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious script hinders any attempt at emotional momentum.

Brendan Fraser Is Not To Blame For The Whale’s Failure

And it’s not Fraser’s fault, either. God knows that he tries so hard to make his performance as Charlie, a reclusive English teacher who reverted to binge-eating after his partner committed suicide, work. When he learns that he has about a week to live, he attempts to reconnect with his daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), who magically shows up at his house, even if she hates his guts more than anything else.

If she hates him so much, why did she appear in the first place? Who knows, but the script repeatedly tells us how much Ellie hates Charlie’s guts because she keeps repeating that same affirmation to him ad nauseam as if the audience didn’t understand it in the first place.


And what does Charlie do? He doesn’t feel bad about it and understands why she would think this way. After all, he left her and her mother (Samantha Morton) to fend for themselves. But it’s incredible how much disdain she tries to pass on to Charlie and makes it clear how much he hates her, with Charlie casually replying, “but you’re so amazing!” as if he can’t read the room.

The natural thing to do would be to apologize to her, which is likely the first reason she came to him in the first place. She is giving you signs to apologize and explain why you were absent for most of your life. But Charlie can’t read the room. He’s so overjoyed to see her daughter that he’s willing to pay her $120.000 (!!!) to spend time with him??? And even after she almost kills him by lacing one of his sandwiches with an excessive dose of Ambien, he’s still talking about how amazing she is. Unbelievable.

A Ridiculous Script Derails The Whale

The Whale’s entire script is based on the most repetitive dialogues. First, Ellie hates Charlie so much she repeats it (like I’m repeating that fact, so it hammers into your head). Second, Charlie loves Ellie so much that he holds no ill will against her, even if she attempts to kill him, which is entirely wild. Then we have a missionary (Iron Man 3‘s Ty Simpkins) who believes that Charlie needs God’s grace in him, even if the New Life Church caused his partner to kill himself.

He tries to convince him he needs the Lord, even when Charlie and his friend Liz (Hong Chau) keeps telling him he is not interested because of the personal connection he shared with his boyfriend. But he keeps insisting upon himself for no reason until a baffling third act twists derail most of the movie and makes the missionary’s entire presence feel completely ridiculous. I won’t spoil it, but the unintentional laughter it got from the audience should mean everything.

Then there’s Liz and Charlie’s ex-wife, whose sole purpose is to tell him that:

  1. He needs to go to the hospital. 
  2. He needs to stop eating so much.
  3. What he’s doing to himself is terrible, and he needs to let other people help him better himself.

Of course, Charlie refuses, and there are so many baffling third-act reveals within those two characters that fall so flat you’d think you’re watching a Tommy Wiseau picture. Aronofsky has built his press tour around the fact that the movie is challenging to manage, but he wants the audience to feel great sympathy toward Charlie and the characters he interacts with.


Unfortunately, at The Whale’s end, you don’t feel sympathy towards anybody, even Charlie, who acts like the most clueless individual. Is he clueless because he is about to die, or is he just clueless because he’s an objectively terrible person who doesn’t care about anyone but himself and the ego he tries to fill with spending time with his daughter? At the same time, why doesn’t he want to pay for hospital treatment and become a better individual for his daughter, his friends, and, more importantly, himself?

We don’t feel sympathy for Charlie but contempt. And the way Aronofsky paints Charlie through Matthew Libatique’s 4:3 frames both feel cruel and exploitative. There’s no emotional nuance in Fraser’s performance. It’s all overtly expressive, in-your-face, placated emotions of anger, “snot bubbling” sadness, and over-expressive laughs that turn into hacks, hurls, and heart palpitations. There’s no complexity in his eyes or facial expressions, which is what a performance of this stature should require to feel convincing.

Instead, it feels awkward and not as natural as Aronofsky seems to have envisioned the film to be. But he doesn’t help himself through Samuel D. Hunter’s preposterous and overwritten script (who is adapting from his play of the same name!) that repeatedly repeats each arc and line of dialogue as if the audience was dumb enough to understand the film’s main through lines. 


I know that The Whale has its fans, and that’s fine. I’m just stating what I thought of it: a ridiculously shot, acted, and emotionally manipulative piece of nonsense that ranks high as one of the worst movies of 2022 and the worst film of Darren Aronofsky’s uneven career. I wish that The Whale indeed was Brendan Fraser’s comeback film, and I hope he gets all the success in the world. But his performance left me cold, if not angry, instead of thought-provoked and gutted, which seemed to be the movie’s goal in the first place.


The Whale poster

The Whale is now playing in theaters. What did you think of The Whale? Did you like Brendan Fraser in the film? Do you think The Whale has a sympathetic message to convey, or is it as contemptuous as the review says it is? Let us know in the comments below, and follow us on social media!



Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent

Maxance is a freelance film and TV writer, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the University of Montreal, with a specialization in Video Game Studies.