No two people feel the same exact way about any film. Thus, Team Experience is pairing up to debate the merits of each of the big awards season movies this year. Here’s Abe Friedtanzer & Eric Blume on The Whale
ABE: Eric, I distinctly remember last year when I mentioned that my favorite movie was CODA that you wanted to start a series where you just kept telling me how bad it was. Well, fortunately or unfortunately, I hear you detest my favorite movie of 2022 just as much, so now you get that chance! I was recently a guest on The Rolling Tape podcast where we had five panelists discussing The Whale and expected someone to be in the “hate it” camp, but it turns out we all loved it. For me, the experience of seeing it in a completely packed press and industry screening at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September was an astounding one, and I left feeling entirely impressed with pretty much everything about it. I soon read about the issues some people had with it, but rather than guess what rubbed you the wrong way, I’ll invite you to say your piece before I get to defending my top film of the year.
ERIC: Abe! It’s a good thing we genuinely like each other enough to dive into this all in good fun. It’s not my fault you like badly-written films!
Before we get to the acting and directing, let’s start with the writing. The script for The Whale, to me, was schematic and obvious. From the moment the film starts, when Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is teaching his class without showing his face, you know that one of the big moments at the end will be… drum roll … showing his face to the students! An immediate thud out of the gate.
Then a series of characters enter and exit the stage (err, his apartment!) to have short scenes with our protagonist. Some of them are more convincing than others. The basic logic of this film is dubious: Charlie and Mary (Samantha Morton) had a daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), and they have apparently lived across town from each other (?) for over ten years with no interaction. One day the daughter just shows up, conveniently moments before Charlie is about to die, so he can get his parental redemption? Then we have Thomas (Ty Simpkins) an extraneous character right out of a 1950s play by William Inge, a young kid who is proselytizing for some sort of strict religion. Coincidentally that religions was the cause of suicide of Charlie’s boyfriend, years earlier. The dead boyfriend’s sister Liz (Hong Chau) stops by every day for over a decade(!!!) after her long nursing shifts to take care of Charlie? Who are these people? I mean, thiis a pileup of coincidences of near-epic proportions.