In his first film in five years, Director Darren Aronofsky bucks expectations again with a chamber piece about an English teacher, Charlie (Brendan Fraser, still recognizable under layers of latex), who appears to be on the verge of eating himself to death. The term “morbidly obese” is rightfully considered problematic, but in Charlie’s case it may apply: his eating is a kind of death wish, a semi-conscious bid to be reunited with his dead, gay lover. Before that happens, he reaches out to the teenage daughter he hasn’t seen in ten years.
Adapted from Samuel D. Hunter’s play, “The Whale” confronts prejudice in all shapes and sizes. It’s a gripping, compassionate drama which keeps us hooked without leaving the confines of Charlie’s apartment. Along with what is probably Fraser’s career-best performance, there’s sterling work here from Hong Chau (“Downsizing”) as his friend and de facto nurse, Samantha Morton as his ex-wife, and Sadie Sink as his rebellious daughter, Ellie.