The Beaver is the story of a troubled man named Walter Black who, much like the actor portraying him, has hit rock bottom. He's battling depression, his business is in shambles and his relationship with his family is strained. One sad, drunken night, he decides to end it all and is literally pulled back from the edge by the unlikeliest of saviors: a beaver puppet that he found in a dumpster and put on his hand without really knowing why. The puppet immediately becomes Walter's alter ego and calls itself the Beaver. Walter speaks as the Beaver, treats the Beaver as if it is another living entity and requires that others do the same. With its strong Cockney accent, offbeat sense of humor and dominant presence, the Beaver becomes the guiding force that Walter thinks he needs to get through life.
It sounds crazy and it is crazy. Walter's family knows it's crazy - his wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster, great as always; she also directs) plays along for his sake, even when the Beaver joins them in bed. His youngest son loves the Beaver and its antics - his dad has never been this fun. His struggling company (a toy manufacturer that apparently is so renowned that its business dealings make headline news on NY1 - an odd quirk of the film) is surprisingly accepting of having a Beaver for a boss, especially when the Beaver's ideas put them back in the black. Only Walter's eldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin) wants nothing to do with his father and has problems of his own. If this film had been played as a comedy, it could not possibly have worked. Instead, it takes itself seriously enough that Walter's problems seem heartbreakingly real, and the Beaver, entertaining as it may be at first, becomes an increasingly ominous presence.
Mel Gibson's personal problems have been well-documented, but there is no denying that the man can still act. His performances are spectacular and run the gamut of emotions. As Walter, Gibson looks haggard, tired, defeated - which may not be so far off from real life. But as the Beaver, he discovers a spark of enthusiasm, creativity, charisma and indeed, deviousness - and while the whole thing is kind of ridiculous on a surface level, it is far more convincing than it might have been in other hands. Whether or not Gibson ever regains his past glory remains to be seen, but this is a step in the right direction.
The Beaver is not a perfect film - in particular, a sub-plot involving Porter and a cool-but-mysterious cheerleader (recent Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence) who may or may not be his kindred spirit feels out of place - but it is worth checking out. This weekend will undoubtedly be dominated by blockbusters: Fast Five, Thor and even Something Borrowed. But if you don't want to deal with those crowds or just feel like kicking off your summer movie experience in a different way... leave it to The Beaver.
In Theaters May 20th
Directed by: Jodie Foster
Written by: Kyle Killen
Featuring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and Anton Yelchin
Plot: A troubled husband and executive adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating.
Trailer: Please click here for the trailer.
Feature by Ben Deutsch.