Monday, June 20, 2011

SFF Review: The Beaver (Jodie Foster, 2011)

Following his anti-Semetic outburst and the abuse of his partner, Mel Gibson's public image turned to one of disgrace. I have to admit, I am not a Gibson fan. He has since found himself on an ever-quickening treadmill in his attempts to win back the affections of his admirers. There was rumour he was to have a cameo in The Hangover 2, but even that fizzled out. Gibson is back in The Beaver, an offbeat dramatic comedy directed by Jodie Foster. The question is: does he still have the confidence and the acting chops required to draw sympathy and win over audiences both for his character and for himself?

Gibson plays Walter Black, the CEO of a failing toy manufacturer who is suffering from a middle age crisis and depression-riddled breakdown. Unable to connect with his wife and sons, he is an antisocial wreck who takes to sleeping all day. When his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) finally asks him to leave, he moves into a hotel, binges and then attempts suicide. When he wakes up, pulling the television off himself, he realises he is able to freely communicate through a different persona, one that is projected through a Beaver hand-puppet he mysteriously possesses and decides not to throw away. Speaking with a new accent, which is a cross between ocker-Aussie and Michael Caine, he asks to be addressed as The Beaver, revealing how Walter is feeling to Meredith and his children through this liberating intermediary.

Claiming that his doctor suggested the hand-puppet 'treatment', Walter can never be found without the Beaver accompanying him. Though skeptical at first, Meredith and his work colleagues find that this method is a revelation. His idea for a Beaver-themed kids' woodwork kit is a best seller, he becomes a celebrity with his face plastered all over magazine covers. Only his eldest son Porter (Anton Yelchin) remains un-charmed. He loathes his father and despises nothing more than watching himself adopt the same mannerisms and traits. Rather than accept his own feelings and emotions and be the person he is, he gets paid a lot of money by his peers for writing papers that sound like them. He builds a friendship with Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) a pretty girl from school, who helps him to open up. Soon enough Meredith grows weary of the puppet, finding that beyond the facade is the same sad, desperate man she grew out of love with.

For Gibson, this role feels somewhat self-indulgent. When he is present on screen, no one gets a go. Jodie Foster's character is bland and underwritten, and the subplot featuring his son, though it does feature a lot of Jennifer Lawrence, is less than compelling. The only real interesting parts are with the Beaver. Sure, it is amusing at times, but this shallow story is void of realism and above all, any subtlety. Gibson is given free reign. Events transpire in the blink of an eye. All of a sudden Walter discovers his ability to project his emotions to the world. Minutes later, after ironing out the creases with his wife, he is back in charge of his company and being widely touted as a celebrity. The next minute you forget you're in The Beaver and have flashes of Evil Dead 2. 

The script is pretty standard, with the odd story framed by a lengthy narration, which describes everything we need to know about Walter, which is relatively inconsequential. But the real Walter barely talks, so I guess we wouldn't have found out any other way. This film feels very short, the supporting characters are not at all fleshed out, and the film slips into a standard model; the troubled marriage, the cute innocent kid and the rebellious older one. It has been done before, and far better. What makes this one different is the premise of its central character, which is barely acceptable and left in the hands (or hand) of a man whose confidence couldn't be lower and whose director couldn't be more unimaginative.

Gibson could have used this role as a way to say: "Fuck it, lets go for anything" and he kind of does. His performance is impressive at times. He even shines with the comedy too. But, his character, who really hasn't done anything terrible, doesn't warrant that much sympathy. We start to feel mildly sorry for him when we know that he has become solely dependent on this alter-ego. His mental state is not improving, and few are going to want to talk to his Beaver for much longer. With the exception of Porter, they all want the real Walter back. There was nothing unexpected and the dramatic payoffs less than moving. While it is an impressive turn by Gibson, he becomes too overwhelming, and this film, which tries to be a grounded family drama, becomes everything but.

My Rating: 2 Stars (C-)


  1. I'm still looking forward to this film .. despite your negative remarks.

    Perhaps you watched too many *great* films before seeing this one Andy :D

  2. You might be right, but I ploughed through this review in about an hour. Realised as I was writing that it wasn't as good as I initially thought. By all means, check it out! I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

  3. I don't know what to expect from this one, really. It looks odd. But then again, it looks far too serious to cope with the oddness. Either way, I probably won't be making any special effort to see it.