REVIEW: Braking For Whales, Starring Harry Potter’s Tom Felton

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Apr 28, 2020

Posted by: Emma Pocock

Felton, Movie Reviews, News, Review

Tom Felton (Harry Potter‘s Draco Malfoy) stars in upcoming independent movie Braking For Whales as closeted gay man, Brandon Walker, who is sent on a road trip with his estranged sister to fulfil his late mother’s bizarre last request: for her remains to be consumed by a whale.

Braking for Whales is written by Sean McEwen and Tammin Sursok, and directed by McEwen, whom we interviewed about the film recently. Sursok (Pretty Little Liars) also stars in the movie as Brandon’s sister, Star Walker. The movie features Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs) and David Koechner (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy), as the siblings’ deeply conservative Aunt and Uncle, Austin Swift (Live by Night) as T.J., whom we see kissing Tom Felton in the trailer, and Darron Dunbar as Ira Rhodes, whom we see give Brandon and Star the task of scattering their mother’s ashes in the body of a whale:

The movie begins by introducing us to Brandon as a closeted gay man, driving back from a meeting with a crematorium representative, listening to what is very clearly religious tapes, and repeatedly saying to himself, “Be the change”. He picks up his sister, Star, from the airport, and she confirms these suspicions that these are gay conversation tapes (based on the trailer for the movie): “Aren’t you supposed to be all de-gayified now?”.

The pair are both experiencing deep-seated issues, and their journey in this film is aided by the brilliant chemistry between Felton and Sursok. Star has abandoned her child and has a fixation on George W. Bush that manifests itself as compulsive self-gratification, and Brandon is repressing his sexuality, leading to a moment of violence brought on by his own self-loathing later on in the movie. Brandon blames social media for people “thinking” that they’re gay, saying “Nobody’s really gay anymore… I was just a little lost”, and Star admits to feeling “broken”. The movie depicts two people each going through a deep internals crises and introduces problematic, flawed characters who are messy and irreverent, but – for the most part – want to do better. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Felton (or Sursok!) play a damaged and misguided character, and Felton does a brilliant job at moving between beating back the quips Sursok throws at him throughout the movie, and depicting a man who later tearily admits he’s “Really lost. Bad lost”.

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The movie changes tone rapidly between a drama, comedy and a coming-of-age road trip, from Felton and Sursok drunken dancing and play fighting in their old family home surrounded by whales, to confronting their deeply conservative Aunt and Uncle (themselves a satirical stereotype of the American South with a Second Amendment doormat and a shrine to George W. Bush – leading to a truly cringey and hilarious scene thanks to Star’s fixation), to random occurrences on the journey their late mother set out between them, such as finding a lost child, and trying to help two otter pups.

Later, Star tells Brandon “You’re gay. Gays love sushi, it’s basically written into their genetic code”, and this sums up the kind of stereotyping seen in the movie (seen also in the scene where Brandon accuses their Aunt and Uncle of being racist). The way the movie deals with Brandon’s repression of his sexuality, with him repeatedly saying “I’m NOT gay” and later using a derogatory term against another gay man, plays into a stereotype of movies depicting violence and self loathing in gay relationships, but fits with the film’s depiction of exaggerated, problematic characters who turn on themselves and others. Austin Swift’s character thankfully forgoes these stereotypes, and is confident in his sexuality despite the implied pressure for gay people to repress their feelings in their locale. Sean McEwen said that their scene, in which T.J. attempts to pick up Brandon at a bar, was a stand-out moment on set when filming with Felton:

“Everything that occurs [in that scene] was written to be eviscerating and surprising and emotional – and Tom not only brought it but he made it his own and then some.  The scene culminates with a heartbreaking moment of self realization in the restroom and I think Tom’s performance stands up with the greats.  It left the entire crew that evening awestruck.”

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Braking For Whales shows how people are often problematic, messy, and destructive, and how difficult the path can be toward self-acceptance and healing, and that ultimately, being a better, more authentic version of yourself requires compassion for yourself and others. McEwen explained the siblings’ journey in our interview:

“We wanted to put two distinctly different people, even if they were family (a brother and a sister) and present a situation that they were highly disconnected from themselves and each other – and through their journey, they learn connection.”

After following the journey of two people who we never quite see work through their problems, you begin to realise that the movie isn’t quite about healing their troubles, but about healing their relationship as siblings. By the end of the movie, you’re left still hoping the pair manage to work through their ongoing issues together. Though shaky in its handling of sensitive matters at times, the movie has a lot of heart, and delivers a terrific performance from Felton, which in itself is worth a watch!

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Braking for Whales releases in the U.S. digitally tomorrow, April 29, and can be pre-ordered here. Read our interview with director Sean McEwen here.





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