MOZART AND THE WHALE, 2005
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Radha Mitchell, Gary Cole, Sheila Kelley, Erica Leerhsen, John Carroll Lynch
Inspired by a real-life relationship of two people with Asperger's Syndrome (a form of Autism), witness the formation and destruction of the relationship between Donald – a taxi driver with Asperger's who runs an Autism Support Group- and Isabelle – an artistic sort of girl with the same social dysfunction.
Asperger's Syndrome is a form of Autism where the primary dysfunction in the afflicted is that their social skills are severely lacking to the point that they often can't even stomach to be in the same room as other people because they simply don't know what to say or how to behave in an acceptable manner. It's interesting to see a film which portrays this in a realistic manner.
Donald is a taxi driver in the big city. He has Asperger's Syndrome as well as being a savant who is good at numbers (mathematics comes simple to him as if he were a human calculator). In an attempt to overcome his social disability, Donald runs a local Autism Support Group where he is the highest functioning member in an adult group where various degrees of Autism are present.
One day, the group has a new member join: Isabella. Isabella also has Asperger's Syndrome, but is even more highly functioning than Donald to the point where she seems like a perfectly normal person who just has a tendency to speak her mind more directly than other people (she later makes the comment “I learned a long time ago I can't avoid shocking people, so I just make it work for me.”). She's also beautiful, and Donald is instantly drawn to her although he is incapable of communicating adequately to her for even a single conversation.
Also interested, Isabelle takes the initiative and asks Donald out. He says yes, much to the disappointment of Gregory- another high functioning member of the support group who also is attracted to Isabelle. Thus begins the relationship of Donald and Isabelle.
The two become close and Isabelle goes back to Donald's place... which is, to the average person (and Isabelle) a dump. Saving everything (including newspapers that are years old) is a part of Donald's disorder. Isabelle discards the messy apartment and beds Donald. Later, while Donald is out at work, Isabelle spends the day cleaning the apartment. When Donald gets home and sees that everything is gone or moved (there may have been nowhere to walk before but he still remembered where everything was), he loses his cool and yells at Isabelle saying she stole his life. He throws the crying Isabelle out.
Upon reflection, Donald realizes that he's done the wrong thing and that Isabelle meant well and he apologizes. She instantly takes him back and announces to all her co-workers at the salon that Donald is her boyfriend.
The two go to a costume party together. Isabelle is dressed in an elaborate Mozart costume, while Donald is a Whale (which is where the title of the film comes from). Their relationship strengthens and they move in together.
Donald gets a better job, and when his boss wants to come to dinner, Donald reprimands Isabelle telling her she must act normal so she doesn't embarrass him. Not taking kindly to Donald blowing off her dysfunction as something she can control (he should know better, after all, since he suffers from the same thing), Isabelle purposely acts up even more than she normally would just to metaphorically spit in Donald's face. This causes the immediate disruption of their relationship, but can Donald apologize for this miss-step? And even if he can, will Isabelle accept it?
The story in “Mozart and the Whale” is cliché at best: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy screw up royally and loses girl, boy tries to get girl back. It's the same plot we've seen in countless romantic comedies before. The only thing that keeps this movie fresh, however, is the unique characters with a social disorder that we've not really seen on film before. Some would argue that the film isn't even about the relationship but the Asperger's Syndrome and how people deal with it. While I can see how that might be the case, it seems clear to me that it's more about the relationship and its bumpy road as opposed to what causes the bumpy road. After all, if the characters didn't have Asperger's and Donald was just an asshole, you wouldn't say that the point of the movie was to focus on being an asshole and how it causes problems in relationships...
That being said, the characters in this film are definitely unique and a lot of fun to watch. That includes everyone from the high functioning characters (Donald, Isabelle, Gregory) who are just “a little off”, to the bottom of the totem pole supporting cast like the woman who says totally inappropriate things and repeats people, to the guy that keeps to himself but can tell you the weather on any given date in the past.
The cinematography was both good and bad in this movie. The good is that the framing and camera work is superbly done, making this indie film seem more like a dramedy of a much higher budget. However the overall look of the film gives the appearance of something that was shot on old ends (for those that don't know, when a movie shoots on film stock, they cut whatever they don't need and sell it back to the manufacturer to get some of their budget back. Those cut ends are then re-sold at discounted rates, but the quality on them is not as good as the rest of the stock because they've typically had a little bit of exposure due to the unpacking/cutting/repacking procedure).
“Mozart and the Whale” is an interesting film with a great bunch of characters, however one can easily be annoyed by watching the BEYOND awkward interactions between characters.
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