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The Whale has a Big Problem.



by Paul Deeter


It's 2022 and the Brennaissance is full steam ahead. What am I talking about? Brendan Fraser, former 90's superstar from such hits as The Mummy, George of the Jungle, Encino Man and many more finally re-emerges in the spotlight of movie prestige with a few new films and a solid press run. Frasier has always been a nostalgia point for many; despite a sketchily reviewed film The Mummy, there's a large following and tons of millenial love for this action epic. It grossed handsomely and hit number one in the box office against the successful run of Star Wars: A Phantom Menace. It was a hit, and still is considered one of his best films and finest performances. Additionally as an actor he did stunts for his work, with a significant on set injury of one of The Mummy's sequels in 2008. This only to be followed unfortunately with a dramatic and messy divorce between Fraser and his now ex-wife. There's a lot of trouble when an actor falls into injury and public controversy, and this double whammy of unfortunate events saw Fraser's sudden leave from the cinema scene and basically, forgotten. Which was unfortunate but left people guessing especially after years looked kindly upon Fraser's role in The Mummy and Blast from the Past.


After years of silent work and subtle behind-the-scenes offerings to independent features, Fraser re-emerged onscreen with the excellent Stephen Soderbergh outing: No Sudden Move. No Sudden Move premiered on HBO to a solid reception critically, with a tense heist-themed plot surrounding two solid performances by Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro. As slick and solid as it was what surprised people most about the twisty film was actually just the appearance of a long lost face. Yes, Fraser shows up in a big way as a well-acted mobster in this feature which was a shock to audiences given his large weight gain. Perhaps this was a result as to the many seven plus surgeries Fraser had over the years to maintain his health after the botched stunt in 2008. Its common for actors (Mark Hamill for example) to hide publicly out of shame or self-preservation after a working accident. But all that being said, Fraser was warmly welcomed publicly after his comeback. He responded with tears to a positive interview with a fan/publisher earlier this year. And then there's the esteemed Venice International Film Festival, where his newest feature The Whale premiered. Although its not uncommon to receive a standing ovation for a film at the festival. The longest one yet is for Colin Farrell's newest film and it had a whopping 13 minute ovation. But the early love for Fraser's newest film left him crying and probably in disbelief of how he got there after so long away. Fraser's set and bound for the awards season. However, The Whale which is Darren Aronofsky's newest feature, is sitting at a meager 69%. Not only is it considered a misfire of a film, it's got a problem. A whale of a problem (sorry).


The plot of the newest outing by Aronofsky, who is famous for brilliant takes on down on their luck men such as his film The Wrestler, [a story of] Charlie (Fraser), a reclusive English teacher suffering from severe obesity. In one last attempt to redeem himself, Charlie tries to rekindle his relationship with his 17-year-old daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). The film follows the man as he struggles in and out of physical moments of exertion and true moments of perpetual loneliness. While the basic story is out, most of the overall coverage follows Fraser. He has put on weight in real life, but takes on a cosmetic 'fatsuit' for the role to appear 600 pounds overweight. The film's melancholy tone along with Fraser's raw performance has people buzzing about the actor's potential for Oscar gold. But the movie itself has fallen into the views of stagnancy and superficiality at worst. While overall considered a tearjerker, its mixed reception may discourage viewers from showing up at the theaters. But that's not the big problem with the feature.


Brendan Fraser at the Venice International Film Festival.

The problem of The Whale is the body dysmorphic take on obesity that it falls into. This has been buzzing from potential viewers and hesitant followers, but has also been stirring up with people who'd seen the film as well. It's no coincidence that a movie with semi-troubling reviews to be considered a lukewarm take on its subject. Its no longer the 80s, when a book about the threat of getting thinner from Stephen King is socially acceptable. The issue of a 2022 film of this magnitude is the depressing affect it may portray to stress the issue of weight gain. The majority of society isn't pushing 600 pounds mind you, but the problem of body dysmorphia is present now more than ever. Twitter user Katie Rife addresses the issue in a now trending, semi spoiler included tweet: Massive red flags for EDs and fat phobia; the main character endures over an hour of the cruelest verbal abuse imaginable, and later tries to commit suicide by food. I have dealt with bulimia and binge eating disorder on and off for years, and found it incredibly triggering. The trigger warning may be important for viewers dealing with these issues and worse, some critics have gone so far as making politically incorrect sayings to the effect of discouraging "fat viewers" from seeing the movie. Now its important to note that the issue is trending among people who've not seen the movie but also that Rife has seen it and does praise the performance of Fraser's.


So is this issue big enough to cause waves in the turnout for The Whale? Well, probably not. Critics aside the desire for a solid Fraser comeback has never been more viral online. And it doesn't hurt that a award beckoning role is just what cements Fraser into the limelight again. Will I see The Whale? Yes. Is this article hyperbolic to the issue? Also, probably yes. But its important to understand the triggers that face many viewers and casual audiences online and off. If The Whale is not for you, that's fine. But in a society working so hard on transcending body shaming we should see this movie as it is: a sympathetic take on a fictional character. And despite all that, we should also view it as a big opportunity for a faded star. And for that, I'm buying my ticket.

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