The Brenaissance is Headed to Oscar Season—With a Catch

The long-awaited return of nice guy Hollywood hero Brendan Fraser is finally upon us, and some folks are already angry about it

We will not be denied the Brenassaince after all.

The Mummy star Brendan Fraser, who was set to play a villain in the recently-axed Batgirl, will receive a major honor at the Toronto International Film Festival. The TIFF Tribute Award for Performance is set to be given to Fraser for his role in Darren Aronofsky’s new film The Whale, based on a play about a 600-pound man trying to repair his fraught relationship with his daughter (played in the film by Sadie Sink of Stranger Things).

The TIFF award is known as something of an awards-season predictor, EW notes: “A relatively new—yet no less influential—award on the awards season trail, TIFF Tribute prizes have gone to significant Oscar contenders in recent years. Since the prize’s 2019 inception, eventual Oscar nominees and/or winners that have won TIFF Tribute prizes at the festival’s annual gala include Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), and Anthony Hopkins (The Father).”

Cameron Bailey, CEO of TIFF, said in a statement Monday, “Brendan Fraser gives a performance of staggering depth, power, and nuance in The Whale. This former Torontonian has been an action star, a screen comic, and a romantic lead. We’re thrilled to welcome him home as the actor behind one of the finest performances of the year.”

Fraser’s also in Martin Scorsese’s next, Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leo DiCaprio and due out next year. He got choked up talking about it to an interviewer last year in a now-celebrated TikTok. And he’s starring in the comedy Brothers alongside Josh Brolin and Peter Dinklage, though no release date’s listed yet.

Fraser disappeared from the Hollywood radar after his heyday in the ’90s and early aughts, and in 2018 told GQ he’d been sexually harassed in 2003 by former Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Philip Berk. He also commented on his own burnout: “I believe I probably was trying too hard, in a way that’s destructive,” he said, noting the physical toll from roles like the Mummy franchise.

“I felt like the horse from Animal Farm, whose job it was to work and work and work. Orwell wrote a character who was, I think, the proletariat. He worked for the good of the whole, he didn’t ask questions, he didn’t make trouble until it killed him… I don’t know if I’ve been sent to the glue factory, but I’ve felt like I’ve had to rebuild shit that I’ve built that got knocked down and do it again for the good of everyone. Whether it hurts you or not.”

Now he’s set for a second act on his own terms—but there could be complications. Aronofsky’s film has been criticized, since its announcement last year, for being fat-phobic, especially for reportedly putting Fraser in a body suit alongside his own weight gain for the role. Fat suits, long trotted out by Hollywood as a means for a thin actor to get laughs or sympathy (see: The Nutty Professor, Shallow Hal), are not the thing anymore.

And A24’s nutshell doesn’t seem a wildly nuanced portrait of obesity: “A 600-hundred-pound recluse who is hiding away from the world and slowly eating himself to death.” Also, um, it’s called The Whale.

But aside from a few TIFF people, no one has seen the movie yet—and it’s hard not to root for a guy who’s so clearly been humbled by his cheering section.

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