The Beaver Directed by: Jodie Foster Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin Running Time: 1 hr 31 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: May 13, 2011 (wide release)
PLOT: To deal with his ongoing depression, a family man (Gibson) decides to talk to the rest of the world through a beaver puppet that he found in the garbage.
WHO’S IT FOR?: The Beaver is for those who want to sit through a film about depression and how to look at it from a different angle. Plus, you've got to be at least OK with Gibson and his off-screen drama.
The Beaver comes loaded with troubles. First of all it sounds like (insert porn title joke here). HaHaHaHaHA! Yeah, that won't ever get old. Next, it's starring Mel Gibson. I think Gibson's goal is to prove "all news is good news." Unfortunately, his experiment doesn't seem to be working. Finally, the movie is actually about a man who talks to and through his hand, and on that hand is a beaver puppet. That's a tough sell, especially considering this isn't for laughs. The Beaver's focus is troubles ... specially depression.
Surprisingly, the big question is if you're capable of having the suspension of disbelief with Gibson, not with the subject. Gibson pulls off a captivating performance. But, with everything that has put him in the headlines, can you see him as a depressed man named Walter? Then again, who better to play someone unhinged than him?
After a great Australian voice-over to start things off we spend time with Walter's family; Meredith, Porter and Henry. They're easy to like and root for. Porter is not just your average high-schooler and Yelchin does a great job of bringing him to life. Meredith has grown tired of Walter's depression and Henry is just a cute kid. So, when Walter puts a beaver on his hand and is actually capable of trying to connect with these people, it feels better. The film gets around the insanity of the situation with a well-placed doctor's note. And with all of these good performances, including Jennifer Lawrence as Norah, Porter's potential love interest, you start nodding your head in agreement with the beaver and The Beaver. After all, in the age of self-help books and pills for everything, why can't there be room for an Australian puppet?
It's right about this time in the film where I feel like The Beaver made a few missteps. Walter is the CEO of the toy company Jerry Co. Shouldn't a few employees flip out about a man who seems to have gone a little mad? Shouldn't stock plummet? It's like we missed the scene where everyone (except his son) has decided this is totally fine. Speaking of his son, again Yelchin does good work, and I love the idea that he writes other student's papers, but finds their voice. But it seems like lazy storytelling to have Norah stop tagging in the 8th grade because she was caught by police, and then Porter creates the exact same situation when trying to win her heart. That's a tiny thing, compared to including the real world. When Walter ends up on magazine covers and talking with Matt Lauer, it feels terribly out of place. What power does the theme lose if the toy company's profits increase by 100% and save it from going under? Maybe he makes the local news, but stop it there. The power of this "crazy" story is to keep it insular and not let the real world in.
The two most prevalent themes are "dealing with the past that depresses you," and "worried you'll turn out like your dad." Those will speak to many people and the film is a success because of it.
It's a tough sell, there's no easy way around it. It's almost like they said, "We have a nutty film, starring Gibson about depression. Screw it, let's just call it 'The Beaver' and get out of here." After all, what other choice did they have? Talk to the Hand? If you don't mind Mel, see this film. Trust me, it turns out there's plenty of reasons to think about Jodie Foster's Beaver.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10