wed 25/05/2022

The Beaver | reviews, news & interviews

The Beaver

The Beaver

Misconceived drama about a mentally ill toy executive and his hand puppet

Just your normal family: Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson and the beaver

It doesn’t augur well when the first comment you hear as the credits roll is, “Well, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.” That’s really not a great place to begin a review either, but let’s anyway. Or rather with a fnar, fnar moment - did nobody point out the other meaning of "beaver" to the film's makers?

The story - for what it is - is about a depressed toy-company executive, Walter Black (Mel Gibson), whose wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster, who also directs), kicks him out because she can no longer cope with his long-standing self-obsessed depressive state, which no amount of medication or therapy has cured. Walter’s relationship with his two sons is also minimal, and later, in a dingy motel room with a bottle of vodka for company, he attempts suicide.

The failed suicide scene is played as screwball comedy, which is fine, but just as one is thinking The Beaver may be a fresh take on a horribly complex and challenging subject, it drops the ball because Kyle Killen’s weak script fails to develop a potentially good idea, ie, do we treat the mentally unwell as victims of a cruel illness or are they a horrible inconvenience?

The following scene is one of several shoehorned-in narrative leaps, as Walter, annoyed at finding himself still alive, decides to throw away the several bottles of alcohol he has bought and in doing so finds a hand puppet in the dumpster. He decides to sleep with the dirty, furry thing - really, would you? - and what do you know, the next morning he wakes up talking to the little feller, who gives Dick Van Dyke a run for his money with his Cocker-ney accent. We surmise that Walter is now in the grips of a personality-displacement or even bipolar condition.

What really defies belief is when they rekindle their long-dead sex life with the  Beaver between the sheets. Oh please

Walter, after being given a tough talking-to by the Beaver - "I'm the Beaver, Walter, and I'm here to save your damned life" - returns thoroughly energised to his toy company and makes some amazing turnaround decisions that bring the company overnight profits, even if he is now mute and it’s the Beaver who is doing the talking. Everyone accepts this Walter-talks-through-Beaver situation as if it were normal; now lots of people are wonderfully unfazed around the mentally confused, but - really, again - would you be happy if your boss said, “Talk to the hand puppet, because the elbow’s not listening,” still less think he’s the beaver’s balls when it came to making sound business decisions? Nah, thought not.

But what really defies belief is the bedroom scene when Meredith allows Walter back home and they rekindle their long-dead sex life with the Beaver between the sheets with them in a weirdly troubling puppet threesome. Oh please.

Mel-Gibson-in-The-Beaver-007Walter's confused emotional state is mirrored by that of his older son Porter (Anton Yelchin), who worries that he shares some of his dad's nervous tics, such as banging his head against the wall in frustration. Porter is a straight-As student who fritters away his talents writing papers for lazy or stupid classmates in return for large sums of money that he clearly doesn’t need until we learn, in a very touching scene with his girlfriend (Jennifer Lawrence), it goes into a Jessica Mitford-style running-away account.

Walter’s younger son, Henry - Riley Thomas Stewart (pictured above with Gibson), meanwhile, who is a loner, responds without question to the Beaver’s presence. He is just grateful to have his dad spend time with him and, in the way that young children often do, accepts a bizarre situation as normal.

The production notes state that the film-makers regard this as a family rapprochement drama but, briefly touching moments aside, there are two insurmountable problems with The Beaver: the unbelievable story and the unlikeability of the main character, who is a self-obsessed emotional recluse for whom we have real difficulty finding sympathy. When Walter's big breakdown occurs we don't care (in fact, a few of you may find it funny) and when the film's emotional pay-off comes it's so sudden and unsupported by what has gone before that I suspect there won't be a wet eye in the house.

Gibson, whatever you think of his unfortunate recent behaviour with women, really can act (well, on occasion), and Foster can most definitely direct, but neither performs particularly well here - when you have a weak plot and a poorly written script there’s very little even the most talented writers and directors can do. How this misconceived project ever got the green light is a mystery.

Watch the trailer for The Beaver


There are two insurmountable problems with The Beaver: the unbelievable story and the unlikeability of the main character

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