STARRING Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence, Anton Yelchin DIRECTED BY Jodie Foster SCREENPLAY Kyle Killen MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 91 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Summit Entertainment DVD EXTRAS Audio Commentary; Deleted Scenes: "Everything is Going to be O.K." Featurette
"The Beaver" Review
The Beaver wants to be a brilliant film.
The Beaver is trying desperately, and I mean desperately, to be a meaningful film.
Why then is The Beaver such an ordinary film?
A good portion of you will likely dismiss this review as simply coming from yet another Mel hater, a self-indulgent writer who can't set aside my feelings regarding Gibson's admittedly boorish and abusive behavior.
While admittedly never fancying myself to be a diehard Gibson fan (long before his recent troubles), the trouble with The Beaver isn't a Gibson bias, a preconceived notion or an inability to separate Gibson from his similarly troubled character.
Nope. The trouble with The Beaver, in fact, is director Jodie Foster, who struggles mightily to find the correct tone for the film and finally succumbs to her maudlin tendencies and beats the film nearly to death.
The Beaver, written by first-timer Kyle Killen, is about Walter (Gibson), a toy company executive mired in the dark abyss of depression that is rapidly swallowing up his company, his family and virtually his entire existence. His wife (Foster) has reached the point of deciding to separate after nearly 25 years of marriage, while he's largely lost the affection of his two children, teen Porter (Anton Yelchin) and young Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), who still manages to idealize his father much of the time. Booted out from the family abode, Walter takes refuge in the bottle and in his own self-harm ideation until he stumbles across "The Beaver," a hand-puppet who becomes his voice as he attempts to reach out to the world.
Literally. "The Beaver" begins to consume Walter's every waking moment, a hand puppet that never leaves his hand and is companioned by a growlish British accent that sounds a bit like Russell Brand after a pack of cigarettes.
Walter begins using "The Beaver" to re-connect with life, frequently handing out post-cards that explain he's using a prescription hand-puppet and using "The Beaver" whenever he's forced into social situations, emotional situations or, well, human situations including a rather quick yet giggle-inducing sex scene.
The Beaver is such a wildly uneven film that it's never completely clear if this is supposed to be a stark, personal drama or a dark comedy or a family drama. The Beaver flirts with virtually every genre, and even features a largely unseen buzz-saw drama that has you wondering if perhaps we've stumbled onto the set of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.
There's a brilliant film trying to get out in The Beaver, and it's a rather bold and visionary film that is easy to admire. While I'm not completely convinced that Gibson was the perfect choice for the lead, he redeems himself well here much of the the time despite lacking the vulnerability that would have really sold the character. Yet, there's simply no doubt that Foster was the wrong person to direct the film and too frequently the film is allowed to wallow in faux emotions and pseudo-philosophical meanderings. It almost goes without saying that in a film called The Beaver, people are going to chuckle on occasion. However, The Beaver elicits laughs at the worst time and it's hard not to feel like we're actually laughing AT Walter and not with him. That's a problem.
Truthfully, the film is largely sold on the solid supporting characters of Porter and his potential girlfriend, Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), who harbors a magnificent secret of her own yet masks it behind being the class valedictorian and a cheerleader. The story and the dynamics between Porter and Norah is infinitely interesting, while maintaining a consistency of tone that seems to completely escape the rest of the film. While Walter vacillates between comic and tragic, Porter and Norah are richly developed and deeply felt human beings brought vividly to life by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone).
One gets the feeling that The Beaver would have worked best had Foster had the guts to completely turn the film loose, allowing both an exploration of Walter's freefall into major depression with psychotic features while adopting a bit of a comic edge that felt more intentionally created. Certain aspects of The Beaver are certainly unexpected, but they're never used to their maximum potential and for a film literally drowning in such intense emotions the film itself disappointingly elicits almost zilch in terms of an emotional response.
Even the best family/personal dramas are a difficult sell once the hit the theaters. Heck, just look at the award-winning and highly acclaimed Rabbit Hole from last year that featured an Oscar caliber performance from Nicole Kidman. Despite having only a modest production budget, Rabbit Hole barely made 25% of its money back at the box-office and while have to recoup its losses in foreign markets and on home video. The Beaver should have it even tougher, with neither Foster nor Gibson being quite the box-office draw they once were and the quirky story arc a difficult one to market.
I may be wrong, but my gut tells me that when it comes to The Beaver American audiences just aren't going to give a damn.