Once successful toy company exec and happy family man Walter Black has fallen into a deep depression that sees him well into a dark place from which there may not be a return. Upon finding a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster, Walter decides to begin wearing and communicating through the puppet, feeling that it may jsut be the thing he needs to revive his bleak situation.
Based on that premise alone, I was intrigued. However, I still had some reservations about this movie. For one, this project in general, depending on how the material was handled, was either going ot be a great hit, or a massive failure. It is a bit hard to buy into the premise and take it seriously. For another, the casting of Mel Gibson in the lead ended up being both a blessing and a curse, his real life meltdowns and outbursts give him the credibility needed to make the material work, but also make it hard to accept the film due to the fact that he hasn'tr quite yet overcome his own real life undoings.
Despite all that, I was still intrigued and wanted to give the film a chance, because well, I was curious to see how this film was handled, and because I'm willing to give Gibson a chance, no matter how big of an unsympathetic nutjob he might be (or come off as). And, you know what, I'm glad I gave this film a chance. It is good. It is certainly weird, but the film takes the material seriously, and I think if anyoen who sees it does likewise, they will find that this film does have a lot to offer and does deal with some serious and imortant issues.
As for the tone, well, this film does have some funny moments, but it's not a comedy. What humor there is stays on the dark side, keeping the film as mostly an odd psychological drama. It gets pretty dark too. I figured it would get into the serious territory, but when this film decides to get dark, it gets pretty dark...more than I was thinking. The film has big Alexander Payne vibe to it, and, even though I don't think Foster (as director) is at Payne's level, she handles the material in just the right way, thus the film flirts with the farcical and parodic side of things, but thankfully never quite crosses into that area.
The film is a bit absurb, and like I've said, you have to be able to buy into the premise and suspend some disbelief, but this is certainly a film that is not boring, very compelling and interesting, but it definitely scores some big points for having a fresh and interesting take on how someone might deal with mental illness. As a nice counterpoint to the main story, the film also follows Walter's oldest son Porter, who resents his dad and tries his hardest to not end up like him. Porter makes a living on the side writing papers for other students, and this leads him to begin a little something with the class valedictorian who reveals she has some struggles of her own.
I did enjoy this movie, and yeah, it is entertaining, but it's definitely not the most happy film ever (it's far from being the bleakest though), but it provides tons of food for thought and does a really strong job of treating the material with care and respect. That said, I kinda felt like the script could have been a little sharer and stronger. The B story works well, but I think it could have been fleshed out more and better, and actually has enough there that it could have been a film all on its own.
As far as the acting goes, Gibson does deliver some really good work, but his polarizing nature (mostly because of the last few years) might make it hard for some to be very accepting. I think it mostly helps him, and casting someone known more for comedy would probably have been a mistake, unless of course the material would have stayed as is instead of changing tonally. Foster is solid as always as Walter's wife Meredith, but for me, aside from Gibson, I think the ones to watch here are Anton Yelchin as Porter and Jennifer Lawrence as the valedictorian Norah. Yelchin's been around the movies since he was a kid, but he hasn't quite had the major breakthrough to really ensure he'll have a lifelong career. As far as I know though, he's pretty much almost always delivered exellent work, and this film helps strengthen the case for him being considered as someone to appreciate more. Lawrence has thankfully not been a one trick pony in the wake of Winter's Bone, and with this one, she takes what could have been a shallow, bland boring role and gives it depth and nuance.
Even if you despise Gibson for his real life indiscretions, you should give this film a chance. It might be hard to do that, but it's worth it. This is an unconventional film that won't be for everybody, but if you come to it with an open mind and a desire to see a film with a good deal of substance and thought provokingness, then you should be happy. I'm a little torn on it, so let's call it a toss up between a 3.5 and a 4.