Beaver, The (Review)

BEAVER, THE (5/06/11; Drama)
Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Riley Thomas Stewart, Zachary Booth, Cherry Jones
SCR: Kyle Killen
DIR: Jodie Foster
MPAA: PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference.
1 hour 31 mins

It’s hard not to think about Gibson’s personal troubles when he floats across the screen in a swimming pool, fully dressed, with a wrecked expression on his face. Gibson has always been good – almost too good – at playing tortured souls (Lethal Weapon, Braveheart, Edge of Darkness). Considering his well-documented troubles, there is most definitely a method (acting) to his madness.

He reunites with his Maverick (1994) co-star Foster (this time she’s directing) for the oddball story of Walter Black, a clinically depressed CEO of a toy company who has fallen into a suicidal spiral. He checks into a motel with the worst of intentions, a box of booze, and a raggedy beaver puppet found in a garbage can.

But before he can off himself, the thing starts talking to him – or rather, he begins talking through the puppet in a vague cockney accent. They make a deal: If Walter allows the beaver to call the shots, the beaver will fix all of Walter’s problems. Oh, and everyone must address the beaver.

Yes, it sounds crazy, but his adoring wife Meredith (Foster), who has tried everything (including kicking him out), decides to see how this one plays out. Their youngest son (Riley Thomas Stewart) has the most fun, bonding with dad over a new-found love of woodworking. But teenager Porter (Yelchin) isn’t having any of it. He hates his dad so much, he keeps a list of their similarities in hopes of rewriting his own behavior. When that doesn’t work, he smashes his head into a wall. This ain’t a happy family.

The Beaver is as much Porter’s story: he makes money by writing other students’ homework for them (he can write in anyone’s voice). Cheerleader Norah (Lawrence) hires Porter to write her valedictorian speech, and he finds she has things she’s not saying either. What rings brutally true is that Walter is a lost cause. Beaver or no beaver, this guy is defective from the inside out. And once it starts looking as if the beaver has outstayed his welcome, that’s when things start to get ugly.

It would be easy for Killen’s intricate script to devolve into cheap laughs or easy answers, but there are none to be found. Depression isn’t something you can wrap up neatly, so the movie doesn’t even try. Foster’s movie could have dulled the script’s more provocative ideas, but instead embraced them – in particular, the fallacy of investing wholeheartedly in a panacea that absolves an individual of his personal responsibility to fix what’s broken, be it a higher power or beaver puppet.

As far as Gibson is concerned, not many actors have gone to those dark places so routinely, and so well. He’s doing the best work of his career like a guy who has nothing more to lose. And let’s face it, he doesn’t. (Summit)

— DENNIS WILLIS

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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