I’m Not Entirely Sure What to Say About ‘The Whale,’ But I’ll Do My Best

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CREDIT: A24

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Profanity Borne of Anger and Frustration

Release Date: December 9, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Charlie (Brendan Fraser) spends all of his days sitting on his couch, teaching an online English class and ordering delivery. Hardly anyone ever sees him, including his students, as he keeps his laptop camera disabled. He tells them it’s broken, but really, he just doesn’t want to have to deal with their reactions to the fact that he weighs 600 pounds. This may just be the last week of his life, as he’s enduring congestive heart failure and refusing to go to a hospital. So instead he’s looked after by his no-nonsense friend Liz (Hong Chau), who’s also a nurse. They’re occasionally interrupted by door-to-door missionary Thomas (Ty Simpkins), who becomes obsessed with counseling Charlie through what he believes is the impending apocalypse. And in the meantime, Charlie also does his damnedest to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter, the disaffected and manipulative Ellie (Sadie Sink).

What Made an Impression?: I’m really not quite sure how to react to The Whale. And I’m not even talking about the controversy that tends to always surround fat suit prosthetics. As far as I can tell, the physical demands of playing someone this big actually demand an actor who’s fit and hardy. So if you are going to make a movie with a character who weighs as much as Charlie, the only way to do it is with someone who doesn’t weigh anywhere near as much as he does. This is all to say: I certainly get the criticism around this sort of casting, but I also understand why it was made the way it was made.

But that doesn’t mean I understand everything about this movie. It’s based on a play by the film’s screenwriter, Samuel D. Hunter, and that theatrical pedigree is present every which way. The action is limited to one location, and the emotion is delivered all the way to Pluto. That overwrought style can be fine, you just have to convince the audience to buy into it. And on that point of whether or not I’m convinced? I’m confounded.

Charlie is a supremely frustrating character. He likes to see the good in everybody, especially Ellie, who he insists is just wonderful, despite pretty much all evidence to the contrary. Part of that is just what a long-absent dad would typically say when trying to reconnect to his kid. But at a certain point, you think he ought to admit that she’s not exactly what we call friendly. To anybody. At all. He does value honesty above just about everything else, though, even when it’s brutal. But to that point, we viewers might want him to confront the brutality in his own life, particularly the loss of a boyfriend that led to his reclusiveness and disordered eating. Fraser undoubtedly gives it all, as he wrings just about every note he can out of what he’s asked to do. But while I recognized the ambition, I was also left ultimately responding, “Well, gee… Hmm.”

The Whale is Recommended If You Like: Distorted optimism

Grade: 3 out of 5 Moby Dicks

‘She Said’ Shines a Thrilling Beacon

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She Said (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Starring: Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton, Angela Yeoh, Ashley Judd

Director: Maria Schrader

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: R for Detailed Discussions of Sexual Assault

Release Date: November 18, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Looking back now (and even while it was going on), the downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein seems like it was inevitable. But it wasn’t going to just happen on its own. Instead, of course, it required the dedication of plenty of dogged people. This included the work of New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor. They’re played in She Said by Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, respectively. The movie firmly establishes itself in a long and beloved line of based-on-a-true-story thrillers about journalists uncovering abuses of power. Twohey and Kantor have a lot of non-disclosure agreements to work around, and a lot of sources rightfully scared of retribution, but they also have the wherewithal for their simple sense of right and wrong to guide them towards what needs to be done.

What Made an Impression?: She Said could have easily been a traumatizing and depressing experience. Its focus, after all, is on one of the most famous people to have ever been accused and convicted of harassment, assault, and rape. But it doesn’t linger in the darkness any more than it has to, and I’m so thankful about how fully rounded the portrayals of Twohey and Kantor are. Despite reporting on the worst of humanity, they still manage to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. There’s one scene in particular when they’re about to go interview a source, and they discover that they’re wearing basically the same white summer dress, so Kantor declares the two of them “reporting twins.” That’s basically the cutest thing ever, and it’s fully genuine despite being stuffed between all the horrors. And the glimpses into their home lives with their husbands and young kids are similarly adorable in a slice-of-life way.

The rest of the cast is filled with veterans providing welcome support, like Andre Braugher and Patricia Clarkson in the newsroom; and Samantha Morton, Jennifer Ehle, and Ashley Judd (as herself) among the sources. But perhaps the most crucial creative contribution comes from composer Nicholas Britell, who’s probably best known for his award-nominated work on Barry Jenkins and Adam McKay projects. That’s already a fair range of tones and genres he’s put out, and he knows exactly what the assignment is in this case. Namely, it’s all about setting a vibe of constantly pulse-pounding action. The action in this case involves making phone calls, driving across town, booking impromptu flights, and clacking away at the keyboard. It’s not the stuff of whizbang wizardry, but it’s essential and requires a steady hand, and the score is there to constantly, safely remind us that.

She Said is Recommended If You Like: All the President’s Men, Spotlight

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 NDAs