'The Whale': Brendan Fraser is great, the movie not so much

Brendan Fraser stars in Darren Aronofsky’s adaption of Samuel D. Hunter’s play, The Whale.

It’s impossible not to root for Brendan Fraser, one of Hollywood’s most likable actors, whose comeback has been one of the most heartening movie stories of 2022. But admiring his performance as a man paralyzed by grief and self-loathing in The Whale doesn’t necessarily mean liking the movie he’s in. Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play is a murky-looking, claustrophobic exercise in emotionalism at its most trite and ostentatiously maudlin.

Fraser plays Charlie, an online writing teacher who, as The Whale opens, is meeting with his class on Zoom; unlike his students, he’s a black box — in more ways than one. A 600-pound recluse, Charlie has been rendered virtually immobilized by shame, itself the result of numbing the losses of his life in trancelike binge-eating sessions. Played by Fraser with the aid of prosthetics and a 300-pound “fat suit,” Charlie is obsessed with Moby-Dick — a recurring motif of the movie centers on a student’s paper about the novel that he especially admires — but is he the elusive leviathan or Captain Ahab, set upon vanquishing his own delusions?