TIFF 2022: The Banshees of Inisherin, The Whale | Festivals and awards

There will also be some excellent think pieces about what has already become one of the most divisive films of the year, “The whale.” Darren Aronofsky’s latest is being debated even before most people have seen it because of its subject matter and how much practically everyone roots for the star Brendan Fraser to make the comeback he deserves. And Fraser certainly provides all this drama, tapping into emotional veins that feel deeply personal. It’s a daring, ambitious achievement.

Unfortunately, I’m less convinced that the source material deserves his efforts, or that the very talented Aronofsky ever figured out how to overcome its notable flaws. This is a casual melodrama that throws serious topics like obesity, suicide, teenage rebellion, religion and sexuality into a blender without ever making the mixture believable. Other than some good choices of Hong Chaueverything that works here can be found in Fraser’s haunting eyes – I wish this comeback performance was in a film that really felt like it was trying to understand what’s behind those eyes instead of just to push them to cry.

Fraser plays a writing instructor named Charlie, a teacher who never turns on his camera during Zoom sessions because he weighs 600 pounds. The movie basically opens with a death sentence for Charlie as his nurse takes his blood pressure at a level that should be impossible. Instead of going to the hospital, Charlie chooses to spend his last week on Earth connecting with his estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink)—a decision that never rings true, despite Fraser’s best efforts to sell it. The small ensemble is completed by a door-to-door evangelist named Thomas (Ty Simpkins), who will save Charlie’s soul while he still has time.

Charlie constantly preaches honesty and authenticity to his students, but I find very little of either in Samuel D. Hunter’s play or screenplay adaptation of it. Much will be made of the play’s handling of obesity, and yet it is really only the most prominent weapon in Hunter’s manipulative arsenal. He is so intent on pushing the viewer’s emotions that the characters begin to become pawns in a game. Don’t be fooled into thinking this movie cares about people like Charlie beyond what they might do to activate your tear ducts.

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