It’s unusual to call an Oscar race over in September. Foolish, even. There are so many more awards-worthy films still to open between now and the end of the year, and few know the power of the performances that might be found in Damien Chazelle’s roaring, gluttonous Babylon, or the visual memoir that Steven Spielberg delivers in The Fabelmans. And yet, I feel very confident in telling you that no other performance will arrive between now and December that will be moving, touching, heartbreaking, and devastating enough to unseat Brendan Fraser out of the frontrunner position for Best Actor due to his role in The Whale. It’s a sympathetic, painful, and shocking performance from an actor the industry sadly forgot, and I’m telling you, it’s winning an Oscar next year.
The Whale made its North American Premiere as part of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, following the emotional screenings it held in Venice (and the raves it generated overseas). We finally caught up with the movie, directed by Darren Aronfsky, at TIFF. And here’s why we consider The Whale to be one of the best movies you will see all year.
Brendan Fraser is extraordinary playing an unconventional character.
Charlie (Fraser) is somewhere north of 600 pounds. He’s confined to his dimly lit apartment, where he teaches writing classes online – and leaves his laptop camera off, so as to avoid judgement from his students – sinks into his well-worn couch, and consistently orders pizzas and takeout food to be delivered to his home. Fraser wears prosthetics to play Charlie, but the work is so seamless, you can’t spot the line where the rubber ends and the actor begins. His girth is a part of his performance, and Fraser is so convincing, we feel the effort and struggle that’s exerted in every physical move the character makes.
But it’s when Fraser is able to shine through the prosthetics necessary to play Charlie that his performance transcends the material. His voices betrays a sadness and guilt that immediately conjures compassion. His expressive eyes sometimes flash hope, even as the reality of his surroundings suggest that Charlie’s remaining time with us will be short and hopeless. While some actors might have let the prosthetics do the heavy lifting when it comes to Charlie’s enormous struggles, Fraser alone is so convincing that there are scattered moments where I even forgot he was wearing any. All I saw was the man.
Sadie Sink deserves equal praise in The Whale.
This movie isn’t Fraser’s show, and his show alone. Charlie needs reason to atone before his heart loses its battle with the man’s girth, and The Whale finds it in Ellie, our lead character’s estranged daughter.
The fractured relationship between parent and child can be dismissed as cliche – fodder for countless indie dramas that come out during awards season. But Sadie Sink, best known for playing Max in the Netflix hit Stranger Things, brings a unique fire to the role of Ellie that gives the wounded an interesting arc, and makes for a compelling foil to Fraser’s Charlie. Ellie is a raw nerve, which Sink agitates by striking it with angry, edgy choices. Ellie has a chip on her shoulder the size of her father, but in the wrong hands, the character loses all sympathy. Sink makes sure we never lose sight of the little girl hiding behind the emotional armor. I can't wait to see what this actress tackles next.
I’ll end as I started. Predicting the Oscars in September can only make you look stupid. But having seen The Whale, it’ll be the Academy that looks dumb if they leave this movie, its director, and the two main leads out of their categories at next year’s ceremony.
More from the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival:
Steven Spielberg gets personal with The Fabelmans
Rian Johnson's Glass Onion is a superior movie to Knives Out
Billy Eichner's Bros is more sweet than funny
Watch out for Anya Taylor Joy in The Menu