Jodie Foster’s first directorial effort in more than 15 years, “The Beaver,” is a nice blend of sincerity and eccentricity.
However, you cannot shake the feeling that she played it a bit too safe. As a result, “The Beaver” comes across as more awkward than anything. It is not batty enough to be funny nor dark enough to be interesting. Instead, the movie settles in as a bland drama with a moderately provocative premise.
Mel Gibson plays Walter Black, a once-successful toy executive and family man who, now plagued by his own demons, suffers from depression. No matter what he tries, Walter cannot seem to get himself back on track, with both his career and his home life nearing complete shambles as a result.
However, when Walter comes across an old beaver puppet, his aura – which until this point resides down in the dumps – immediately begins to change. He pops the puppet on his hand and opts to communicate solely through the beaver, with the argument that it is his own unique brand of therapy that allows him to “create a psychological distance between himself and the negative aspects of his personality.”
Needless to say, Walter’s wife Meredith (Foster) is far from enthusiastic about her husband’s new quirk. However, she goes along with it after seeing their youngest son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) bonding with his father for the first time in his life. Walter’s other son Porter (Anton Yelchin) is not as accepting though, refusing to have anything to do with his deranged dad.
There is also a subplot involving Yelchin’s character’s relationship with a female classmate (Jennifer Lawrence) who cannot seem to nail the perfect words for her valedictorian speech during graduation. All things considered, it is actually the better of the two plots. However, it also feels like a completely different movie altogether.
As for the primary plot, “The Beaver” comes up a little short, falling flat in the areas where it needs the most life. After the first 30 minutes or so, the initial novelty wears off and we are left with more or less a motion picture lacking much flavor. Fortunately, Gibson and Yelchin are left to pick up the slack in story with a pair of pitch-perfect performances.
It is commendable that Foster and screenwriter Kyle Killen manage to inject absurdity into a family drama without sacrificing sincerity. Yet, in trying to capture the best of both worlds, the duo also comes up short. Those seeking a dark comedy will be especially disappointed in “The Beaver,” a movie that is much less indie than it appears at first glance.
“The Beaver” (PG-13 – 91 minutes) is now playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. Visit NCM.com for specific showtimes.
Listen to Joseph J. Airdo’s “Movie Maverick” radio segment, every Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. during “The Daily Blender with Jeffry O’Brien” on KBSZ – NBC 1260 AM and 96.1 FM.