‘Saturday Night Live’s Attempt to Chide Brendan Fraser and ‘The Whale’ Is Just as Toothless as Everyone Else’s
Brendan Fraser and the makers of The Whale have officially hit the backlash portion of their Oscar campaign. While critics initially lauded Fraser’s performance as an obese man, others are calling his use of a fat suit (for obvious reasons, Fraser prefers the term “prosthetics”) dehumanizing to people actually dealing with obesity.
On that count, Saturday Night Live and Woody Harrelson had an opportunity for sharp satirical commentary last night, but instead of weighing in (pun unavoidable) with an actual opinion on the controversy, the show delivered a sketch that’s mostly about laughing at Harrelson in a fat suit and the lengths fit, attractive actors go to in order to gain weight for the kind of physical transformations that we typically equate with award-worthy actorly commitment.
In the sketch, a number of actors have made sacrifices for Mikey Day’s new movie The Hippo. One grew a scratchy beard. Another shadowed a therapist for two whole weeks. One Method actress dyed her hair brown. But Harrelson’s Keith topped them all — gaining 450 pounds for the lead role. Unfortunately, the studio is no longer interested in films about obesity and pulls the plug mid-production.
The joke here? Most of the actors made negligible sacrifices for the film, unlike Keith’s extremes. Those extra 450 real-life pounds have resulted in a diagnosis of triabletes, which apparently is the disease that comes after diabetes. His journey included a steady diet of something called “gristle loaf,” a glistening, compressed brick of beef fat and corn syrup — the same thing they feed sick elephants at the zoo to help them get back to their normal weight. Nine gristle loafs a day seemed like a recipe for Oscar. Now, that dream is lost.
Day is beside himself at all of the ways the studio fought him on the film. Producers kept trying to force him to make a number of creative compromises, even placing Harrelson’s Keith in a fat suit instead of the actor putting on 450 actual pounds in six months. “Was that an option?” asks Keith. “I really wish you had brought me into the conversation.”
There certainly is a way to deftly handle the conversation around The Whale in a comedic or satirical way. But instead, SNL settled for easy fat jokes like Harrelson not having seen his penis in four months. Comic actors wearing fat suits for laughs isn’t new (which is part of the problem) — Fat Bastard or Shallow Hal, anyone? — but SNL missed an opportunity to say something with more bite (or anything really). Basically, the sketch concludes with the agreement that Fraser will probably win the Oscar for The Whale.
It’s hard not to root for Fraser given all that he’s been through, but both things can be true: His comeback story can warm the heart, while the use of fat suits, or prosthetics, or whatever you want to call them, as Oscar bait can deserve more scrutiny as well. It’s a shame then that SNL didn’t give us something more compelling to chew on.