MEL GIBSON JODIE FOSTER ANTON YELCHIN JENNIFER LAWRENCE CHERRY JONES
Director Jodie Foster prefaced this film with, “It’s not a comedy,” but everything about a movie called The Beaver is initially funny (which is how they will suck people into the film). Fueled with controversy since its existence was made known to the public, it was only after Oscar winner Mel Gibson’s personal life was splashed across headlines that this film became a hot topic. Initially slated for release in 2010, the Jewish powers that be in Hollywood blacklisted Gibson and his attempt to rebuild his image. (He was protested-out of his cameo in Hangover 2.) Foster didn’t give up. Even when, for a while, this movie was being sent directly to DVD, she fought for both the film and her pal Gibson. (They starred together in the 1993 western Maverick). The Beaver ends up almost like a lament for Gibson’s long awaited return to the screen, with much thanks to Foster.
CEO of a toy making company, husband and father of two, Walter Black (Gibson) is not well. He can’t seem to escape depression and mental illness. After years of dealing with his lack of involvement, his wife (Foster) kicks him out of the house, applauded by their older son (Yelchin). Walter, however, takes an unlikely route to recovery when he finds a stuffed beaver hand puppet and begins interacting with it. After some drunkenness, suicide attempts, and self-inflected injury, The Beaver, as he is called, begins to speak for and through Walter, announcing to family and employees that Walter is now under special care. Ideas created around the beaver begin to soar including new toys at the company and improved communication with his younger son; but now Walter is totally dependent on his hand and may never find his way back to reality or normalcy.
Instantly I thought of Lars and the Real Girl when I first saw the trailer for this film. The idea of using an inanimate object to break out of a life withdrawn from society and normal human function has certainly worked in the past; however, this concept is more far-reaching and more difficult to pull off. The initial reaction to both films is “this is stupid” and if either movie had functioned as comedy it might have ended up like Matt Damon’s Stuck On You. Foster is no stranger to directing films about the hardships and difficulties of families; previous films include Home For the Holidays and Little Man Tate. The Beaver will be her biggest commercial success but also the riskiest.
Foster’s greatest achievement here is behind the camera and keeping this script from becoming sentimental. Gibson, however, deserves the biggest on-screen praise for his challenging performance and talent with the puppet and voice. The Beaver never really breaks new cinematic ground like typical Foster-acted films; however, it’s a sweet picture about a family facing outrageous problems and what they will put up with to get things back to normal. Yelchin (Charlie Bartlett, Hearts in Atlantis) and recent Oscar nominee Jennifer Hudson (Winter’s Bone, X-Men First Class) are both particularly good, and you also see Foster’s experience as an actor, now directing a new generation, flowing through their performances.
Final Thought – Foster’s direction and Gibson’s performance make this work.
Grade B+ By: Dustin Chase W. Editor: HKN
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
The film is very well executed by writers, filmmakers, and actors. It pulls the heartstrings in all the right places, and in many respects is spot on in presenting issues many families deal with today. And it resolves the problems in ways we can mostly admire. I agree with Dustin that it brings to mind Lars and the Real Girl, and I appreciated the point made in both films that if those around odd, creative people are open-minded and understanding, they can often pull through and adapt to life. In that vein, it is when Walter’s (Mel Gibson) wife (Jodie Foster) is no longer tolerant that he does great damage to himself.
The part of the film I had trouble with was the periodic bashing of people like family, therapists, and friends. Although in the end, there is more value placed on them, during much of the movie they are disparaged as ineffectual. In fact, really good psychotherapy—not necessarily with drugs—can be extremely effective, and it is rare that a person who is in real trouble is able to pull him-herself up by the bootstraps and come out like Walter does in the end. Indeed, eventually we do see Walter in what looks like a health-care facility, and he seems to be making progress. But he had to do something drastic to get there. Which—come to think of it—is not uncommon.
One aspect of the film is instructive, I think: the parallel searches for identity on the part of Walter and his sons, particularly since there had been generations of father-son conflicts in this family. Walter’s son Porter (Anton Yelchin) has lists of his own characteristics and mannerisms that are like his father, and he is determined to extinguish them one by one. But Walter is not portrayed as an all-bad father; with his
younger son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), he is someone positive for the child to identify with. So, an underlying theme of the movie seems to be male identity, e.g., who is Walter as a husband, father, CEO? Who writes others’ school papers and needs to find his own person separate from his father? Who will Henry grow up to be if his childhood is basically alone and if his father is absent? I think the film does a credible job in resolving all these dilemmas.