Review: 'The Beaver' is Darkly Funny, Strikingly Poignant, Fantastic
by Ethan Anderton
April 17, 2011
The concept of a man in the middle of a mid-life crisis taking the initiative to use a "prescription puppet" in the form of a beaver to re-connect with his family and get back control of his life sounds like it's made for a straight-up silly comedy. Hell, at one time Steve Carell and director Jay Roach were once slated to bring this story to the big screen before making Dinner for Schmucks. However, calling Jodie Foster's new film The Beaver simply a comedy would be careless, inaccurate, even disrespectful. This film is a masterpiece that not only pulls at your heartstrings, but will have you reflecting on your life long after leaving the theater.
This is the story of Walter Black (Mel Gibson) a man at the end of his rope who no longer has a personal connection with his family, and finds himself floating through life and sleeping all day. In a drunken daze after being thrown out of his home, Walter attempts to commit suicide, but ultimately fails. Upon waking, he's taken on the persona of a gruff, talking-beaver puppet which he found in a dumpster the night before. And the beaver convinces Walter to blow everything up, or rather, start with a clean slate and get his life back in order.
From here, there's obviously some fun to be had. Walter's family, including his wife Meredith played by Jodie Foster and troubled, neglected teenage son Porter (Anton Yelchin), and his youngest son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), all have to deal with Walter living and speaking through this Australian beaver puppet. By way of this new beaver, Walter woodworks with Henry, gets intimate with Meredith and tries desperately to connect with Porter, who finds himself even more distanced from his father as he takes on dozens of his less flattering, worrisome traits. The exchanges the family has by way of the puppet are entertaining, but serve a much higher purpose than laughter.
It's in Walter's attempt to put his life back in order we really see both Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster shine as actor and director respectively. Gibson doesn't attempt to hide the fact that he's voicing the beaver, so it's not a fancy ventriloquist act. It serves a constant reminder that some part of Walter's mind has manifested this character, even if he doesn't seem to be in control all the time. At the same time Foster's direction still allows the beaver to feel like a separate entity from Walter as she uses depth of field to focus back and forth between Walter and the beaver as they interact with each other. The moments between Walter and the beaver are genuine, heartfelt and contain some of the best acting Gibson has ever done. His presence in the tabloids will even serve to make his performance and the character's story all the more powerful.
Meanwhile, Anton Yelchin steps up to the plate with a powerful performance as Walter's afflicted son, hating himself as he seems to be slowly declining into a lifestyle that has made his father the wreck that he is now. Porter's struggles mirror his father's, (even in the face of a positive influence from a quietly afflicted girl played by Jennifer Lawrence) and it's this story and Yelchin's acting that really complete the story as a whole for Walter and the entire family. (We also interviewed Anton Yelchin about The Beaver at SXSW.)
In the midst of all this, Foster shows great poise as she both directs and acts in this harrowing film. Working from a phenomenal script by Kyle Killen, Foster has crafted a film that will move you. You'll laugh as Walter uses the beaver to interact with his co-workers at his toy company, but you may find yourself tearing up when an opportunity comes for Walter to pull his hand out of the beaver and truly get his life back. Moving right up to the very end and well after the credits have rolled, this story will stick with you for days and currently stands as my favorite film of the year.
You could say that this is the story of a man in a mid-life crisis, a boy and a girl, a husband and a wife, a father and son and a crumbling family. The Beaver is all of those things. But more importantly, it is a poignant, and even disturbing portrait of every single one of us. Deep inside of every single one of us lives a certain level of darkness and depression that could manifest itself at any moment. Whether it's from a neglectful father, a broken family, a dead relative, or just a feeling of inadequacy in love or life, The Beaver shows that letting those secret feelings define your life is the road to insanity. Few films are this bold and finish out with an ending that is simultaneously harrowing and uplifting, but The Beaver simply tells it like it is, and audiences will be better off for watching.
Ethan's Rating: 10 out of 10