Sadie Sink at The Whale Premiere at TIFF © Gilbert Benamou
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Brendan Fraser gives a career-defining performance in Darren Aronofsky’s arrestingly intimate drama about a reclusive English professor struggling with personal relationships and self-acceptance, adapted from the stage play by Samuel D. Hunter. Fraser and his co-star Sadie Sink stepped on the red carpet of TIFF so the glee of the audience in attendance.

Brendan Fraser gives a career-defining performance in this arrestingly intimate drama from director Darren Aronofsky. The Whale invites us to identify with a man in a precarious state of isolation that has been exacerbated by a potentially lethal mix of technology and our culture of body shaming.

Writing instructor Charlie (Fraser) never seems to have his webcam enabled while teaching online. He makes excuses and is so good-natured that no one makes a fuss, but the real reason for his invisibility is his appearance. Charlie weighs 600 pounds. His obesity starts to pose a grave threat to his health and his friend Liz (Hong Chau, The Menu), a nurse, begs him to check into a hospital, but also recognizes that it might be more important to simply offer support.

Charlie’s current status quo is upended by the return of his long-estranged adolescent daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), though her willingness to resume a relationship seems prompted as much by Charlie’s offers to ghostwrite her school essays as it is by her sense of familial loyalty. Meanwhile, Charlie receives visits from a door-to-door evangelist (Ty Simpkins) who engages him in a dialogue about redemption that, despite Charlie’s lack of religious inclination, proves surprisingly resonant. Can any of these folks, regardless of their personal agendas, serve as the lifeline to self-acceptance that Charlie so urgently needs?

Brendan Fraser at The Whale premiere in TIFF © Gilbert Benamou, Ikon London Magazine
Brendan Fraser at The Whale premiere in TIFF © Gilbert Benamou, Ikon London Magazine

The Toronto International Film Festival, unlike the Euro film fests (Cannes, Venice), isn’t known as a place for standing ovations. As soon as those credits roll, they need to jump into a post-screening Q&A, clear the theater and get into the next screening.

Sadie Sink at The Whale Premiere at TIFF © Gilbert Benamou
Sadie Sink at The Whale Premiere at TIFF © Gilbert Benamou

But it was a different story tonight at the Royal Alexandra Theater as The Whale director Darren Aronofsky and the cast of the A24 film kept he standing ovation momentum going for what seemed more than three minutes (long by TIFF standards) as Brendan Fraser took the stage teary eyed in what his second major fall festival reception after Venice where he sobbed for six minutes.

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Editor in Chief of Ikon London Magazine, journalist, film producer and founder of The DAFTA Film Awards (The DAFTAs).