The Beaver Reviews
Mel Gibson stars as a man suffering from depression. It's gotten to the point where he is literally sleepwalking through his life. He has given up, as all the little foibles and trials of daily life seem insurmountable to him. His wife, also played by Foster, still cares for him, but has distanced herself in an act of self preservation - which is part of Mel's problem. Everywhere he may step in attempting to fix the problem is a minefield, so he takes an avoidance tactic to the nth degree by emotionally and physically (by sleeping long and often) withdrawing from his own life.
This film shows, in spite of his public outbursts, that Mel still has serious acting chops. His performance is measured - over the top when necessary, and powerful in its silence, where much is conveyed by a raised eyebrow or sideways glance. In an act of desperation after a suicide attempt fails, Mel creates an alter ego - a hand puppet of a beaver who has this wonderful Manchester accent. Mel expertly flips between the two personas, with each being distinct and easily discernable, and totally believable that they coexist in the same mind.
Mel's struggle of trying to get his life back - reuniting with a family that he has, in many ways, betrayed by his actions, is meaty enough, but in an interesting move the film also tells a parallel story of Mel's eldest son, a bright high school senior who detests what his father did to the family and detests himself as he sees many of his father's mannerisms in himself - chief among them being the moodiness and glass half empty outlook.
While we see Mel's adult struggles in trying to reconnect and find some kind of joy in the adult world of work and family, his son Porter is equally at war with the expectations of high school. Foster does a nice job flipping back and forth between the two, drawing not only the parallel of father and son, but pointing out that, while they each have different crosses to bear, in either case life ain't easy.
As Mel tries to reconnect with his wife, son Porter takes interest in a cheerleader and class valedictorian, who, in spite of appearing to have the world as her oyster, has her own demons to deal with - and this becomes the central theme of the film... we all have our crosses to bear, and as the valedictorian speech makes clear towards the film's close, "there are 6 little words that our family and friends tell us - and those 6 words are lies... no, everything is not going to be alright!"
One might think that the use of a hand puppet is a mere contrivance, but I found it to be totally believable: a physical representation of multiple personality disorder, or just the wars we all have within ourselves as we try to cope. In creating the Beaver, Mel's character is giving control of his life to his self created alter ego - which is typical of MPD patients. As the alter ego becomes more successful, Mel gives it more and more control, until the real and lesser personality becomes almost non-existent. Finally, a war between the two parts of his psyche takes place - and all the early humor disappears, making the film a poignant drama.
In an interesting bit of allegory, the company that Mel inherited from his father is called Jerry Co. If you're up on the book of John in the bible, concerning the war of Jerico - only by absolute obedience to God was the city of Jerico delivered to Joshua - which echoes Mel's situation - only by giving himself over to his alternate personality, the Beaver, can he achieve success and reinstall himself in the real world. In a manner of speaking - Mel must let the Beaver be his god.
I'm reminded of the sign that used to hang over the door of John Larroquette's office on his old TV show (which also dealt with depression and other mental demons): "Life is a dark ride".
It exposes the (self)destructive effects of a long depression in an original way. I like it when you don't know if you should laugh or cry. Nice work Jodie!
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.
"He's here to save Walter's life."
The Beaver is one of the oddest films I have seen this year. It is an offbeat and inventive look at depression. It is wonderfully directed by Jodie Foster and well acted by all involved, especially Mel Gibson and Anton Yelchin. The film, is at times, darkly hilarious and at other times devastating and heartbreaking. Still, despite my admiration of the film, I still never completely fell in love with it.
The Beaver follows a family of four. Mel Gibson plays Walter, who is CEO of a toy company, as well as a father and husband. He is extremely depressed and spends all of his time sleeping. His attitude affects his family in different ways. The youngest just shuts himself off from people. The eldest watches his father and notices what similarities they have. He writes them down on post it notes, so that he can eventually destroy all the similarities. Jodie Foster plays his wife and she has had enough. At the beginning of the movie we see her kick Walter out of the house. Then Walter meets a puppet and begins to open up through it. He speaks in an Australian accent and wants everyone to talk to the Beaver.
I really liked the premise and how it was handled throughout, but I didn't feel like the movie had a good enough ending. I didn't expect a huge payoff, but I expected some form of closure and didn't really get it. I turned it off feeling a little unsatisfied. On a whole though, I was surprised and pretty happy with The Beaver. It was a film that definitely had its own voice and direction. It's also a good look at insanity and depression, as well as a solid family drama.
Nate's Grade: C+
The film may have its funny elements, but basically it plays out as a well executed drama. Mel Gibson seems to be back at his best, handling a challenging and risky role like this with subtle ease.
Walter Black (Gibson) is masterful portrayed as a toy company CEO who's lost touch with his emotions in the rush to success. Incapable of handling anything that touches his emotional core, Walter is as blank as an unplugged computer monitor. His wife (Foster) sees the road they are headed down and decides to call it quits, kicking him out of the house where they lived with their two sons. This is the catalyst for Walter to reassess his life and then opt for what seems to him the only solution; to get roilingly smashed and kill himself. After two unsuccessful (And somewhat hilarious, if you are as twisted as myself) failed attempts in this venue, Walter finds salvation in the form of a hand puppeteered beaver with a sardonic and brutally honest verbal style. Enter a mixture of hilarity and tragedy as Walter learns to enjoy the freedom of expression The Beaver affords him through disassociation.
I will warn you, if you suffer from the mental epidemia spreading through moviegoeing America in which you are unable to detach an actor's private life from his artistic work, just give it up. You will be unable to enjoy this film, and I pity you. If you are in the small majority of film connoisseurs who can detach from the tabloid frame of mind, you might just find this movie as touching, insightful, and tragicay- comical as I did. Rock on.
The Beaver is a very emotional film, those that drag out your emotions and make them very sensible; but, at the same time it is beautiful. The acting is surprising and overall its a movie worth watching as it is true art.
The story is about Walter Black(Gibson), a married father who has entered his high peak of depression, while atempting to commit suicide Walter finds a Beaver puppet in the trashcan; but surprisingly this Beaver is alive, he talks and eventually becomes Walter's hero. The movie follows how Walter and his made up puppet and how this effects his depression and the ones around him.
This movie is deep, its touching and although quite random and a little provocative it is able to fully entertain. The acting in this movie is great, and this surprises me because I'm not a Mel Gibson fan, but I certainly do love his role and his acting in this movie. Jodie Foster also does a great job, and Anton Yelchin gives a surprisingly good performance. The movie has an awesome soundtrack, along with its well established script and directing. Overall its a must go.
Walter Black: "We reach a point in order to go on we have to wipe the slate clean. We start to see ourselves as a box that we're trapped inside and no matter how we try and escape, self help, therapy, drugs, we just sink further and further down. The only way to truly break out the box is to get rid of it all together..."
A troubled husband and executive adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating.
As directed by Jodie Foster, who also co-stars, "The Beaver" is a film that had little going for it in the area of promotion, and was virtually ignored at the box office; there's no doubt in my mind that Gibson's crazy personal life played a hand in the film's disappointing critical and box office performances. And that is not to say that this film is any way bad. In fact, it's actually quite good. Although its premise is actually quite ludicrous and should not succeed by any rational means (but this isn't a completely rational film) - Gibson stars as a depressed family man named Walter Black who can only express himself through a beaver hand-puppet - you have to turn on your suspension-of-disbelief button into maximum overdrive mode.
Foster plays his wife Meredith, who is forced to bear witness to a man who may be steadily losing his mind, along with her two sons - troubled high schooler Porter (Anton Yelchin) and kindergärtner Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). Henry's young age allows him to freely accept Walter and "The Beaver," but Porter openly resents him. In a sub-plot, Porter is also behind a lucrative paper-writing scam that also brings him the attention of a pretty classmate named Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), who is not as straight-laced as she seems, either.
But the focus here is Mel Gibson. Whether he's Mel Gibson or "Mad Mel," it is entirely possible that like "The Beaver" does here, it may have allowed Gibson to seek some sort of therapy for his troubling personal issues. I'm fairly certain he's not the first screwed-up actor in Hollywood to seek therapy through an on-screen film role. In fact, whatever issues he may not be able to say himself, "The Beaver" hand-puppet allows him to say what's on his mind. "The Beaver" is a good film, no more, no less, with a truly capable performance by Mel Gibson, who despite what you think of him, is still one of the great actors (still) working in Hollywood.