Sorry, Jodie. Even the hand puppet outperforms you in this one.


Theatrical Release Date: 05/06/2011
Director: Jodie Foster
Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Riley Thomas Stewart, Cherry Jones
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference.
Runtime: 1 hour, 31 minutes


Trailer:

Talk to the beaver.

Who’s interested in checking out Jodie Foster’s beaver? Umm … awkward … Allow me to rephrase: Is anyone out there interested in watching a film called “The Beaver” directed by Jodie Foster? If early box office is any indicator, not many.

Getting a limited release in 22 theaters last week, the receipts tallied up to just over $100,000. A per screen average of less than $5,000 isn’t good (for reference, “The King’s Speech” had over $88,000 per theater in its limited opening).

What do these numbers really mean though? Basically, it comes down to the intoxicated, anti-semitic elephant in the room: Mel Gibson. His off-screen antics in recent years have tarnished a once highly-regarded reputation. From Mad Max to Sgt. Riggs to William Wallace, this was one of the biggest draws of the 80s and 90s. Heck, in 1985 he was the first person People magazine named ‘Sexiest Man Alive’.

But of course, between driving drunker than a hazed Frat boy, subsequently calling a female police officer ‘Sugar Tits’, and spouting some hateful speech against those of the Jewish faith, or seemingly anyone else in his immediate vicinity, the public have turned on Mel. At this point, whether one can enter a movie theater and see him without bringing the outside events into play is something each person must do for themselves. For those who can, his performance in “The Beaver” is a reminder that this is an actor capable of delivering the goods.

In the film, Gibson plays a toy company executive suffering from a depression so debilitating that the only way in which he can communicate with his family and those around him is via a beaver hand puppet. Foster not only directs the film but plays Gibson’s wife. She struggles to give him the benefit of the doubt as to the therapeutic benefits that have manifested in her husband since he donned the puppet (whom he voices with the gravelly tone of someone like Ian McShane). Adding to the complexities are their two sons (Anton Yelchin and Riley Thomas Stewart); with the younger son immediately accepting Dad’s strange new behavior and the older one desperate to be anything but like his father.

Sadly, while she’s been good in most of her other projects, Foster is the weak link among the actors and she should have replaced herself. It also doesn’t help that her contributions behind the scenes don’t net much either (though I’ll give her some credit since everyone else in the film gave good performances). However, the tone shifts too often between dark comedy, family drama, and glimpse into mental illness. There are some honest insights into the problems of depression but there is a fundamental flaw in the execution of the central theme.

(The next paragraph contains spoilers and in order to read it, highlight the empty space below with your mouse.)

Playing the love interest of Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence (also with her own issues) makes a grand speech about how we’re lied to every day when people say ‘Everything is going to be okay.’ This is exemplified by a scene wherein Gibson takes charge of his life once again by cutting off his arm with a table saw (not as graphic as “127 Hours” but disturbing all the same). But the film then goes on to have a HAPPY ENDING! WTF indeed.

If you can get past the Mel Gibson factor and understand that this is a slightly darker take on mental illness, I could very much understanding wanting to check it out – either in theaters or once it hits the home market. A script rewrite and the replacement of Foster in both of her duties could have turned this into something truly impressive. However, what goodwill it had built up comes crashing down in the last fifteen minutes and as such, I can only give “The Beaver” a 2.5 out of 5.

2.5 out of 5