Take 3: The Whales of August Review (A Month Without the Code — #3)

After one week of not posting any reviews for the A Month Without the Code and Summer Under the Stars Blogathons, I am back to talk about another Non-Code film! For the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, I signed up by requesting Ann Sothern as one of the stars I would discuss. Like Melvyn Douglas, I was not familiar with who Ann Sothern was as an actress. Also, I had never heard of The Whales of August, the film I have chosen for this review, until about a month ago. So, I familiarized myself with who Ann was, as an actress, as well as the basic synopsis of the film. When I read about Ann on Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM’s) website, I learned that she had her own show called “The Ann Sothern Show”. When I think of actors or actresses that were given their own television show, I think of those who are known for their comedic talents, such as Dick Van Dyke and Carol Burnett. Since this is the first time I had ever seen Ann Sothern act, I’m not sure if her acting talents are more comedic or dramatic. I was curious to see if her television experience would help her performance in The Whales of August. The only way to answer this question is by reading my review!

The Whales of August poster
The Whales of August poster created by Nelson Entertainment and Alive Films. Image found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Whales_of_august_ver2.jpg

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Even though she appeared in the film for only a limited amount of time, Ann Sothern gave a magnificent performance! Any time she appeared on-screen, she seemed to light up the room. Ann had great on-screen chemistry with all of her co-stars, helping to create an interesting dynamic and relationship between the characters. I was so happy whenever Tisha arrived at Sarah and Libby’s house, as she provided wise words and light-hearted moments. Vincent Price’s performance caught me off-guard because of how good it was! Before watching The Whales of August, I had never seen Vincent act on-screen. I was not only pleasantly surprised by how he was able to portray his character with a sense of charm and likability, but also by how well he was able to pull off a Russian accent! Despite the fact that this was a smaller cast, the acting was top-notch!


The cinematography: The Whales of August is one of the most well-shot films I’ve ever seen! There were some interesting ways in which scenes and images were captured. In the first few minutes of the film, Libby, Sarah, and Tisha are seen watching whales from the shore when they are younger. During this segment, the scenes are presented with a light brownish tint. This showed the audience that this part of the story took place in the early 1900s. With the incorporation of color to the film shortly after these scenes, it signifies that the story is now taking place in the present day. This kind of cinematography is not seen often in movies, so it was fascinating to see this transition between the time periods!


The messages and themes: Similar to films like I Never Sang for My Father, the messages and themes in The Whales of August are just as relevant today as they were in the mid to late ‘80s. While visiting Sarah and Libby’s house, Tisha reveals that she had her driver’s license suspended due to a fender bender. This aspect of the story represents a situation that some senior citizens face: the idea of voluntarily giving up driving privileges. Libby and Sarah’s discussions of mortality show the different mind-sets that elderly individuals may have. These messages and themes are included in the script as naturally as possible. It made the characters’ discussions and situations seem realistic.

Summer Under the Stars banner
Summer Under the Stars Blogathon banner created by Kristen from Journeys in Classic Film and Samantha from Musings of a Classic Film Addict. Image found at https://journeysinclassicfilm.com/2019/07/08/the-2019-tcm-summer-under-the-stars-blogathon/.

What I didn’t like about the film:

A weak plot: When I read the synopsis for The Whales of August, I was led to believe that the story would be an exploration of the sisters’ relationship. In the film, however, the plot revolved around the days in the lives of Libby and Sarah. This made the story feel more like a “slice of life” tale than I had expected. There was no intrigue, which made it difficult for me to stay fully invested in what was happening on-screen. No subplots were found either. This made it difficult for any other story to carry the weight of the weak plot. A character-driven story shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not provide interesting elements to the narrative.


A misleading title: With a title like The Whales of August, featuring at least one whale in the film is expected. Whales were definitely mentioned by some of the characters. But no whales were physically seen. Because this movie is based on a play, I’m not sure if the whales’ absence was intended by the film’s creative team. By not showing any whales in the film, it kind of defeats the purpose of the title. I understand that there’s only so much room within a particular film’s budget. However, I do think there should have been at least one stock image of a whale in the movie.


Missed opportunities: In this narrative, there were a few story-telling opportunities that I thought were missed. During the film, Sarah was talking about selling her hand-crafted stuffed animals at a local fair. This is something that I was hoping to see because I wanted to witness how these characters interacted outside of the environment of Libby and Sarah’s home. Unfortunately, this fair was never featured in the movie or brought up again. Because the whole movie takes place inside and around this house, it limits which stories are told in this specific narrative. It also denies some characters the opportunity to serve the plot in a significant way.

A Month Without the Code banner
A Month Without the Code Blogathon banner created by Tiffany and Rebekah Brannan from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. Image found at https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2019/07/31/announcing-amonthwithoutthecode65/.

My overall impression:

The one word I would use to describe The Whales of August is mundane. The story itself is not as intriguing or thought-provoking as I had hoped. Despite what the title says, there are no whales in this film. The movie as a whole isn’t the most memorable. However, there are a few aspects of the film that I liked. As I said in my review, the acting was top-notch! The scenery is absolutely breath-taking! It makes me want to visit Maine’s Cliff Island someday. While watching this film, I only found one factor that would have prevented this film from being approved by the Breen Code. That factor was the use of language, especially when it came to swearing. Because the majority of this language was spoken by only one character, Joshua Brackett, these words could easily be omitted from the script.


Overall score: 6 out of 10


How have you liked my blogathon reviews so far? Which one has been your favorite? Please tell me in the comment section!


Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen