The Beaver is one of those flicks where the viewer will be questioning if they’re supposed to be laughing or not. Moments like this occur, because the combination of dialogue, the musical score and physical actions by the performers, all suggest three different emotions in the same sequence. Personally, laughter usually won out in this 91 minute feature; which actually encompassed a thought if one can stick with it.
Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is family man and CEO of a modern toy corporation. He lived the American dream through his successful job and his loving family. Then, he became depressed. Walter shutdown and was only around in a physical sense. Mentally, he checked out of his job and his family life. His wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) – who is an apt engineer – tries to say with Walter through this phase, for the sake of their two sons, Porter (Anton Yelchin) & Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). Porter is about to graduate high school and tries to distance himself from his mentally recluse father, based on fears of becoming just like him. Their youngest, Henry, is in his own world in elementary school, but yearns – and needs – his father’s attention.
Meredith has finally had it, and sends Walter packing. That very same night, Walter is drowning his sorrows on a variety of alcohols. During this escapade, he decides to put a beaver hand-puppet – which he found in the trash – on his left hand. While he wears it around the 10-story hotel room he is currently sulking in, he decides it is time to end his life. Well, he fails, and ends up waking to a new friend…The Beaver. The Beaver speaks in a raspy Aussie accent, and pushes Walter to get his act together. He returns home immediately and continues to speak through the beaver puppet. Seeing the glimmer of the man she once knew, Meredith instantly invites Walter back into their home, as the Beaver tells her – through a prepared index card – that this is a new form of treatment for Walter. All of a sudden, the Beaver guides Walter back to a healthy home life as well as success at his company.
Even though things are coming back around for everyone involved with Walter, The Beaver “isn’t going anywhere.” And that may be a problem for some involved.
The Beaver is enjoyable and can induce rolling laughs from the audience. All these scenes with Gibson and the puppet are exactly what you’re thinking (and what the accompanying pictures displays). There is no ventriloquism going on here as the camera shows that it is Gibson doing the voice of the beaver. And he also projects the proper mannerisms based on the dialogue the puppet is spewing. It’s just like a parent creating a voice for a stuffed animal to entertain a kid. Difference here is, Gibson puts on this show in a variety of places (intimate moments with the wife, at the office, on television shows, etc.). Just watch the beaver, and you will laugh.
Having said all that, this is not supposed to be a true comedy. Director Jodie Foster knew that the beaver scenes would be entertaining (and knew how to capture them), but the script is trying to project a deeper meaning to the audience. Yet it never fully works. To which the audience will respond with, “Give me more beaver.”
A parallel storyline comes in the form of Anton Yelchin’s character and his fellow classmate in valedictorian Norah (Jennifer Lawrence). At first, it seems as if this will be about the weird guy getting the girl of dreams. But the story wants to elaborate on that and explore their flaws. The audience already knows there is a disconnect between Gibson and Yelchin’s characters, but then it frantically tries to show damage in Jennifer Lawrence’s character. And this is where things move too fast, glossing over fundamental development points. Therefore, the viewer could care less.
Which is a shame too, for Yelchin and Lawrence are enthralling to watch. Both will have exceptional careers, but they aren’t given enough time to make anyone care with regards to what is happening during their respective portions of the story. Hell, the script transitions too quick between acts for even the main attraction (Gibson and the beaver); leading to the story being incapable of completely selling the audience on the interpersonal disconnects within the characters.
For those who read this after seeing this flick – and those wondering what the main theme is – the moral of the story is how people drive themselves crazy being fake. Or at least that’s the conclusion rendered in this review. This becomes evident prior to the climatic moment and it is refreshing to hear. Problem is, the attraction to this piece leaves shortly thereafter. And the under-developed storylines do little to remedy that empty feeling the viewer will have.
As far as solid performances not already mentioned, the old saying that, “Anyone could have played Gibson’s role” is complete bullshit. Think whatever you want about him as a person, but acting wise, the guy knows how to reel in an audience. And if things around him weren’t so flawed, he deserves some award recognition. Well, at least an MTV Movie Award.
Overall, The Beaver may be out there for some. It has a touch of darkness (the supporting cast) to it, but light (Gibson & his furry hand) ends up shining through more often than not (definitely not morbid like a Donnie Darko). Again, if one does give this a look, they should find pleasure in the tag-team of Mel Gibson and his alter-ego prop; simply because the script never commits to a structured path. Other than that, the movie mechanics (pacing & storytelling) are not as sharp as they needed to be. The word spastic comes to mind. But watching Gibson play with that beaver – which also reveals the heart of the story – is all this guy needed to see to be entertained.
The Beaver is rated PG-13 and opens at the AMC Veterans & AMC Woodland Square on