We’re supposed to reunite with Brendan Fraser in a big tragic, not funny suit. Is this really progress? | Phoebe Jane Boyd


I I can only assume that acting – convincingly pretending to be someone you’re not – is an incredibly boring and unrewarding profession if you’re an able-bodied person playing other able-bodied people. That must be the case, considering how many professional actors who fall into this group and who take on roles they perhaps shouldn’t, and are then celebrated for it by their peers — including now, of course. , Brendan Fraser in The Whale.

Fraser’s casting in the film – or whether the film should even exist in 2023 – may come under even more scrutiny now that he has Oscar nominations, including one for Best Actor, to add to his treasure trove of accolades.

Naturally, the performance was always going to attract a lot of press. Fraser dons heavy prosthetics (both physical and CGI) for his performance as a morbidly obese person, and actors wearing prosthetics or makeup for dramatic performances tend to draw applause (see Nicole Kidman, Steve Carell, even Al Pacino as “Big Boy” Caprice in Dick Tracy).

Prosthetics-enhanced performance draws extra attention from the entertainment industry machine if the additions make the actor look what Hollywood considers to be…worse. The Whale by Darren Aronofsky is a perfect example of this: it is therefore considered courageous; therefore, it is a bait for rewards. But should it be?

Based on a play by Samuel D Hunter, the film centers on a “reclusive English teacher who tries to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter”. A major factor in why Fraser’s Charlie is so reclusive? This weight of 600 lbs. If you haven’t seen the film yet, the reviews can give you an idea of ​​its treatment of obesity, but also a very clear insight into the awkwardness of covering such a story for some critics.

There’s an unpleasant voyeuristic delight in the description of the character’s “tilted jowls”, “jelly belly” and “meat slabs” – and a bonus comparison to Jabba the Hutt – in the Variety article. In the Telegraph, there’s a sarcastic quip about “a rounded character in more ways than one” alongside the “radiantly human” compliment on Fraser’s performance. A more personally informed take came from Little White Lies magazine, with the critic’s wish that the film “would have done more to deepen the widespread notion (unconscious or not) that fat people deserve less dignity, respect and love “.

Many of the gushings have focused on the extra 50 to 300 pounds of fat suiting that was put on Fraser for The Whale, and while, yes, it ties into Hollywood’s continued fascination with transforming the lean and symmetrical, c It’s just weird to see a big costume in a mainstream drama. As a rule, big costumes were exploited for comedy – “a one-note joke”, as Fraser himself acknowledged.

It’s because we, as viewers, are supposed to despise these characters. Audiences have been invited to laugh at actors wearing thick suits again and again, and this frequently overlaps with ableism, classism and racism – a whole different side of villainy: Fat Bastard in Austin Powers films, Sherman Klump in The Nutty Professor, Rasputia in Norbit, Rosemary in Shallow Hal, Thor in Endgame, many characters in the work of David Walliams and Matt Lucas, Fat Monica in Friends, and also, in case you forgot , Joey.

A lot of people really thought that actors acting fat when they’re not fat are hilarious. One could get into the academic theories behind this – is laughter due to feelings of superiority (à la Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes), of incongruity (Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer), of relief (Herbert Spencer and Sigmund Freud) – or is it punitive (Henri Bergson)? Could it be all of this? I don’t know, because I don’t find big costumes inherently funny. Does that mean I think it’s a sign of progress that big suits are exploited for misery instead, like in The Whale? Real actors with the required body type – if possible – would definitely be better; so would stories that do not call for deep pity or even disgust from their audience.

I thought Fat Monica’s dance was cute in the mid-1990s, because she was recognizable to me as a fat teenager. The Klump family interrupting over dinner in the first Nutty Professor movie (we’ll carefully ignore the sequel) reminded me of my own family’s meals. But then I started noticing the giggles behind the performances. I’ve been compared to these characters by bullies who didn’t have much creativity when it came to insults, and by the time Fat Thor arrived in 2019, I was tired of seeing the comedic Hollywood cosplay.

Fraser spoke with genuine sensitivity and reflected on the experiences of people with crippling weight issues on the publicity trail, and his portrayal is a far cry from Fat Bastard. He said he hoped the film would help “end prejudice against those who live with obesity”. I’m so grateful for that, I’m so desperate for the big screen characters that aren’t there to poke fun at. But will the big suit’s shift from funny to sad eventually make its way to the dignity that Fraser wanted to portray? I really hope.


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