By John H. Foote
(**) In theatres
An awkward film to review because, despite excellent performances, it is about the marginalized in society, not terribly pleasant fare. But the super performances elevate the work in every way.
In a society so obsessed with appearance, it must be a terrible thing to be obese and endure the looks of disdain or pity from passers by. We certainly get an idea of what it is to be morbidly obese in this new film from the exceptional Darren Aronofsky, who returns to more humanistic cinema after Noah (2014) and the curious mother (2017). This is where the director shines, drawing outstanding performances from strong actors such as Ellen Burstyn and Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream (2000), Micky Rourke and Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler (2008) and Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in Black Swan (2010).
Here it is Brendan Fraser given the chance for a comeback as Charlie, the obese teacher who lectures via computer ashamed to be seen as he is but more likely unable to navigate his enormous girth. He is at risk for a massive life ending heart attack and knows it, though is lacking in the inner strength to do anything about it. His caregiver is a feisty, take no baloney nurse portrayed with fiery intensity by Hong Chau in another wonderful supporting performance, who tells Charlie how it is with no apparent censor.
Charlie is a gentle giant of a man who lumbers about his home in slow strides, aware a fall could be fatal or land him in a hospital for the rests of his life. He does not fear death, nor does he welcome it, it sits in front of him like a possibility.
There is a melancholy to Charlie that spills off the screen and into our hearts and minds, Fraser gives an achingly fine performance that gently strokes our souls. For anyone who has not seen Gods and Monsters (1998) and is not aware of the very fine actor he is, the performance might comes as a shock. The actor proved years ago he could act, then his career turned into an action hero type especially with The Mummy (1999) franchise.
There is nothing out going about Charlie, he holds everything in emotionally. It is difficult to feel much sympathy for him watching him scarf down candy bars and buckets of friend chicken, grease dripping his chin as he devours it. How can we feel for someone that does that? Someone who has no will to help himself? There is no denying the brilliance of Fraser as Charlie, he is stunning, but the film is helped immeasurably by Chau and the wonderful Sadie Sink as Charlie’s rebellious daughter, still raging that he came out as gay and left her mother. Much is told regarding the past in their first meeting, just as the metaphor of Moby Dick is used like a hammer to beat us over the head with the relentless symbolism. It is all so dark and dour, God knows we nearly weep when these ladies show up. With Chau, Fraser is playful, buoyant, giving us a glimpse of who he might have been before weighing 600 lbs. Sadie Sink, so good in Stranger Things on Netflix, is terrific as the angry teen who wants to connect with her father. We see nothing but regret in Charlie in any scene with his daughter.
Fraser deserves the acclaim he is receiving and such a courageous role for him to try. Equally great are Chau and Sink, all potential Oscar nominees.
To be clear it is unrelentingly bleak, and dark, cramped apartment begins to feel like a prison to us as well. The superb performances save it.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.