Mel Gibson as Walter Black
Cherry Jones as Vice President
Jodie Foster as Meredith Black
Anton Yelchin as Porter Black
Jennifer Lawrence as Norah
Riley Thomas Stewart as Henry Black
Zachary Booth as Jared
Kelly Coffield Park as Norah’s Mom
Michael Rivera as Hector
Kris Arnold as Waiter
Matt Lauer as Himself
Directed by Jodie Foster
Toy executive Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a man suffering from severe depression but his failed attempt at taking his own life is countered by his discovery of a beaver puppet who takes over to do all of Walter’s talking. His wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) starts to see striking changes in her husband, first for the better, but when it seems like his alternative persona The Beaver isn’t going away anytime soon, she gets worried again. Meanwhile, their son Porter (Anton Yelchin) has been trying to escape the drama at home by focusing on his new relationship with the most popular girl in school (Jennifer Lawrence), who has her own baggage.
Bearing in mind this may be the strangest concept for a movie not directed by Lars von Trier, Jodie Foster’s return to the screen both in front and behind the camera is the type of movie we’d normally see get raves at the Sundance Film Festival then not be released for a year or more.
It’s a movie that tries to deal with the serious topic of depression in a dramatic manner, but not in a way that makes the audience want to commit suicide themselves. It only half works in that regard, because there really is only so much of watching this Mel Gibson puppet show that one person can take before one wonders what the movie is trying to say. The fact that Gibson spends the movie doing all sorts of activities with a beaver puppet on his hand who calls itself “The Beaver” makes it nigh impossible to take this seriously.
While I’m not one to judge an actor by their activities off screen, few will watch this movie and think it’s a good idea for Gibson to be playing a crazy person. To quote an eerily prescient line from Kyle Killen’s script, “People love a train wreck when it’s not happening to them.” We can certainly give Gibson credit for his mastery of puppeteering and his impressive Michael Caine impression while in the guise of The Beaver. Even if you’re along for the ride and can believe that an executive who shows up for work with a puppet on his hand wouldn’t immediately be taken away by the men in white jackets, the idea that this puppet would then inspire a hugely popular toy line that not only turns things around for Walter but also gets him on national television? There’s only so much suspension of disbelief that a movie dealing with real-life issues can sustain, and this is where anyone who has accepted the premise so far may check out. Maybe we wouldn’t be so hard on “The Beaver” if we hadn’t seen it the same day as Dan Rush’s “Everything Must Go,” because shockingly, Will Ferrell is much better at mixing humor and drama than Gibson. (Look for our review of that next week.)
By comparison, the secondary story involving Walter’s son, played by Anton Yelchin, and Jennifer Lawrence is far more gripping, but it’s also the part of the movie that offers the least amount of originality beyond movies we’ve seen before, i.e watching an introverted guy bond with the most popular girl in school. The two younger actors are just so much more palatable than either Gibson or Foster, especially as Yelchin continues his move into more adult roles and stronger performances. This secondary story is meant to solidify the fractured bond between Walter with his son, who worries he’s following his father into a state of depression, but the stories never really connect until the very end, so this substory doesn’t feel entirely worthwhile. (Later this year, you can also see Yelchin and Lawrence together in the far superior “Like Crazy” from Drake Doremus, which did premiere at Sundance to raves.)
“The Beaver” isn’t just a bad career move for Gibson, but also for Jodie Foster, who hasn’t directed a movie in 16 years with many projects falling apart, and there’s little about “The Beaver” that might convince someone to throw money her way. It’s commendable enough someone wanted to make a movie about depression and how it hurts those it afflicts and those around them, but surely there’s a way to make a drama about this tough subject without diluting it with such an over-the-top premise and a performance to match from Gibson. It’s possible Foster did the best she could with difficult material, but if “The Beaver” is the best we can expect from the reunion of Foster and Gibson, we’d rather see him remain behind the camera and her focus on her acting.
The Bottom Line:
Not knowing whether to be a comedy or a drama and often failing at both, there’s very little to recommend about this downer of a movie.