Movie Review by L.L. Soares
So, at the end of April, I asked the staff of Cinema Knife Fight if anyone wanted to review the new Jodie Foster movie, THE BEAVER, starring Mel Gibson. Sure, it’s not horror, but it looked so damned weird, we had to get a review for CKF. Of course, nobody wanted to see it, so it fell to me.
After all of the scandals and bad behavior in real life, Mel Gibson has become repugnant to a lot of people, and I can understand that. The guy is just plain ugly from an emotional standpoint. But, in the spirit of separating the man from his work, I wanted to give THE BEAVER a fair trial.
I’m actually glad I saw it. But it is one of the most bizarre films I’ve seen in a long time. Especially considering the level of actors involved in the project.
Mel Gibson plays Walter Black, the CEO of Jerry Co. (a toy company). You would think the guy who runs a toy company would be happy, but he’s not. In fact, he’s been severely depressed for a few years when the story opens, and when he gets home from work, he doesn’t do much else except crawl into bed and sleep. I have never seen Gibson look so sad and weary in a movie before. He’s completely convincing as someone suffering from depression, and it almost made me wonder if, after all that’s happened to him in the news lately, if maybe he wasn’t acting.
His family is at the end of its rope. Walter’s wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster, who also directed), has asked him to leave. His son Porter (Anton Yelchin), hates his father so much, that he has an entire wall full of yellow sticky notes telling him what mannerisms the two of them share – there were about 51 of them by last count – and which he is determined to get rid of after he graduates. The youngest son, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) still loves and looks up to his dad, but has no idea what’s happening to him.
So Walter leaves, and goes to a hotel room, where he can drink himself into oblivion. And he decides he’s finally hit rock bottom, and it’s time to kill himself. He ties himself to a shower curtain rod, which isn’t any good (it breaks) and then then decides to jump off the balcony and finally put an end to it all, when a voice stops him. A voice that sounds an awful lot like Michael Caine.
It’s The Beaver. A big, furry hand puppet that Walter has packed in with his belongings when he left his family. We have no idea why he took it. But now, attached to his hand, it slowly seems to take on a life of its own. Walter begins to completely express himself through the puppet (which is just disturbing, because you see Gibson’s lips move, when we’re supposed to be looking at the puppet). He even brings it into his everyday life. Walter hands out cards to people telling them that the puppet is a therapeutic tool to deal with depression, and most people buy into it. So much so, that his life actually begins to change.
The people at his company, which is in financial jeopardy, think he’s nuts at first, but eventually get motivated by his new vigor. Even his second-in-command (Cherry Jones) begins to trust his instincts – or rather, those of The Beaver, who seems to know just what to do to pull the struggling company out of the red.
Walter gets a second chance with his wife and family- and forms a strong bond with his youngest son – all thanks to the funny puppet with the Cockney accent. Everyone is very patient with Walter, letting him do what he has to do to get healthy again. But everyone has their limits.
Meanwhile, son Porter makes money on the side writing term papers for other kids at school and gets a chance to write the graduation speech for the class valedictorian, Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl he’s loved from afar but never approached before. She has written 400 pages of notes, but can’t edit it down into a coherent speech, so she hires Porter to write it for her. As a result of his trying to get to know her (to write the speech in “her voice”), they begin a relationship.
The entire tone of THE BEAVER is one of extreme sadness. Everyone in this movie is in pain, and everyone seems to have devastating secrets of their own. The feel of it reminded me of Sam Mendes’s AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) in a lot of ways. Not only have I never seen Mel look this weary and worn out, but Jodie Foster looks tired and sad throughout the film as well. It’s certainly not the kind of movie you go to see to cheer yourself up.
Not once did I believe that The Beaver puppet was a healthy thing. It just seemed like the next stage of utter madness, and the fact that people seemed to accept it and Walter’s use of it in everyday life just seemed extremely odd to me. He doesn’t seem to be getting better using it to communicate with the world around him. It just seems to be another way to distance himself from it all and push himself deeper into insanity.
Sitting through THE BEAVER, I found myself wondering who this movie was made for. I can’t imagine many audience members would find this movie enjoyable. As for me, I went to see it because, based on the trailer, I thought this movie looked like a train wreck, and I wasn’t wrong. But I’m not really sure if I think it’s a work of demented genius, or a very sad cry for help.
Jodie Foster has proven herself a capable, smart director in the past, and this movie is just so unusual and weird that it’s hard to understand what attracted her to this material. And Mel Gibson seems to lay his soul bare in a few scenes. He really does look tired of living in THE BEAVER – it’s a completely believable performance.
The storyline between Porter and Norah seemed just as bleak at times. These were two lost souls crying out in the vacuum, finally coming across each other. At times, Porter really irritated me, but even so, for the most part, he seemed real enough. Norah, on the other hand, wasn’t as easy to accept. Her character is just as sad and lost as the rest of the cast, and yet she’s the head of her class, and the head cheerleader at school. And yet you never see her hanging out with anyone else. You never see her sitting with other girls in the cafeteria. She seems completely isolated for someone who is supposed to be so popular. And it’s baffling. Despite this, I liked Lawrence’s performance a lot. I just didn’t feel like she was as popular as the movie kept telling us she was.
As it goes along, THE BEAVER treads some very dark ground. And if I’m making it sound pretty bleak, that’s because it is. Which means that most people reading this review will probably not want to see it. And those who are appalled at Mel Gibson and his real life antics aren’t going to be won over by this movie.
I have a hard time recommending this one, because most people won’t enjoy it.And yet, it’s so strange, so thoroughly drenched in a kind of soul-weary sadness, that I find myself wondering if it will grow on me over time. If I’ll continue to look back on it and find it becoming more meaningful the more I think about it.
I give it two and a half knives.
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives THE BEAVER – two and a half knives!