The Beaver | Jodie Foster, 2011
Every year, movies are released with basic premises that are so crazy that our gut reaction is to think that they will not work. Just take a look at Rise of the Planet of the Apes. No one thought that a sequel to Planet of the Apes was a good idea, and now it is one of the most talked about movies of the year. And last year, we had a movie about the invention of Facebook that no one thought could work. However, not every movie with a crazy premise will work, especially if the right tone is not found within the first few minutes of the film. Jodie Foster’s The Beaver is one of these movies. It is a movie with enough things to like, but is ultimately brought down by its lack of tonal focus.
The Beaver is about Walter Black (Mel Gibson), a very depressed man. He is so depressed that not even his wife who loves him very much (Jodie Foster) wants to be around him anymore. That same night that he is kicked out, while dumping his stuff in the trash, he comes across a puppet shaped like a beaver. For some reason, he decides to keep it. Later on, he put the puppet in his right hand and tries to kill himself. He survives, but now the beaver has come to life, not literally, but it’s Walter’s own way to help him get out of his depression. So, he goes on trying to live his like through the beaver.
There are three things that I loved about the movie that almost made me give it a pass. Two of them are the performances from the leads. Mel Gibson gives what may be the performance of his career. I got into his performance so much that I honestly forgot I was watching Gibson. Shame his stupid shenanigans got in the way of more people at least giving him a chance here. Jodie Foster also gives an excellent performance. Now, it’s not a very complex role or anything, but I liked her a lot. Speaking of her, the third thing I loved about the movie is her visual style. It’s a very simple style, and some might even call it amateurish, but has a good eye for compositions and all that.
But also, the reason why the movie failed is because of her direction. Generally it’s not bad, but she just seemed like she couldn’t strike the right emotional tone. One moment things are quirky and happy, the next they can be wrist-cutting depressing. I was going to forgive this, but then there is a scene near the end, that is the darkest thing about it. And yet, because it involved Walt’s inner struggle with the beaver, I could not help but laugh. And they conclude that scene with a rather shocking and dark event. In the end, the movie as presented is too silly to be considered a drama, and way too dark to even be considered a dark comedy. Had Foster been willing to add a little bit of fantasy to the movie, or had someone with a more “style is substance” approach directed it, it could have worked as a dark comedy a la Little Miss Sunshine.
Also, the script, which once upon a time was listed as one of the best-unproduced scripts, is extremely flawed. Case in point: the scenes involving Walt’s son (played by Anton Yelchin) and his class’s valedictorian (Jennifer Lawrence). I guess that with this they are trying to show how similar the kid is to his father although he tries not to be, but in the end this subplot amounts to nothing and just pads the running time and actually ads to the feeling of depression that kills the film.
The Beaver is a mess of a film with a pleasant enough style and two worthy performances. It’s a shame that the lead’s private life kept people away from seeing his best performance, but at the same time I feel bad for those that actually sat through it.