Review: 'The Beaver' is Darkly Funny, Strikingly Poignant, Fantastic

April 17, 2011

The Beaver

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

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Thank you. I feel like this movie is getting nowhere near the love it deserves, and I saw it at SXSW last month, and absolutely loved it

Abhilash on Apr 18, 2011


Wow! a 10 out of 10??!! That has to be a first! I assumed it would be interesting but now I REALLY want to see this movie!

Ron on Apr 18, 2011


I'm in.

Anonymous on Apr 18, 2011


I was just thinking.. 10 out of 10.. nothing gets a 10 here... I remember seeing the trailer and thinking that it looked really good. Based on this review (very well written BTW), I will seek out this film.

Ruprect on Apr 18, 2011


Count me in too

Chris A. on Apr 18, 2011


This was a great sentence Ethan: "Deep inside of every single one of us lives a certain level of darkness and depression that could manifest itself at any moment. " That alone draws me to it. Well done.

Modern American Man on Apr 18, 2011


That was the most bulls#it paragraph in the entire article. Ethan, we're all happy for you. You loved the movie and wrote what I can only imagine is a hyperbolic review. Spare us your interpretation of Psych 101. That entire part of the article was a convoluted mess. I give this review a 3/10.

jitterbug on Apr 18, 2011


"Letting those secret feelings define your life is the road to insanity" is the best example. It's either simplistic to the point of meaninglessness or insulting to anyone who has ever been diagnosed with an actual mental disorder. Bravo, old chap.

jitterbug on Apr 18, 2011


Read the script which is really great. Looking forward to seeing this.

CastorTroy on Apr 18, 2011


cant wait! Mel has always been one of my top 3 actors, and im glad to see him get back in the ring after all the shit he's been through

Jrev424 on Apr 18, 2011


Can't w8 for this...Nice to see Mel in something where his not systematicly dissapointing me with creepy rants and sh*t

Igor Krivokapic on Apr 18, 2011



Igor Krivokapic on Apr 18, 2011


Same with the 10 out of 10. As I was reading and nearing the end I was screaming for this film to get that rated, mainly because I am one of the few I suppose Gibson fans out there. Either way, I'm stoked, and I hope whoever I take to see this can appreciate it as much as I know I will, my expectations are sky high and I have a feeling they just may be met!

Matthew Richards on Apr 18, 2011


Im a sucker for these type of films with a lot of heart...Im down. Not to mention this may be the most well written review Ive ever read on this sight and thats saying something.

Cody W. on Apr 18, 2011


i have wanted to see the film since i heard of it here so i'm glad to see the love its getting. 10 out of 10 is something.

azrael on Apr 18, 2011


wut? now i'm certain that i've somehow slipped into an alternate universe. this can't really be good? can it?

Anonymous on Apr 18, 2011


if you take Gibson's personal problems out of the equation then yes it is possible.

Anonymous on Apr 18, 2011


if you take Gibson's personal problems out of the equation then yes it is possible.

Anonymous on Apr 18, 2011


@Xerxexx i'm not concerned with Gibson's "personal problems". no matter what actor is in the starring role it wouldn't make this premise any less absurd. and i mean absurd as in stupid not lovably wacky. but i suppose if it's good, it's good.

Anonymous on Apr 18, 2011


absurdity is what films are all about, making the impossible possible.

Anonymous on Apr 19, 2011


thanks yoda, next you'll tell me that films are really just a series of moving pictures going really fast.

Anonymous on Apr 19, 2011


don't be a dick, lol...I'm just saying films are meant to make the impossible a toy man talking to people through a Beaver seems far fetched, sure...but Foster brought it to us and according to Anderton she did a great job. See it or don't. I'm not saying that you should, just offering a different opinion.

Anonymous on Apr 19, 2011


alright, alright. fair enough.

Anonymous on Apr 19, 2011


sorry for being dickish.

Anonymous on Apr 19, 2011


Gonna hit the booze big time the night before I watch this film, probably going to abuse abuse a bunch of folks too. Then when I sit down to watch the film, I'll be so overcome with guilt and my hangover that I'll be weeping like a baby in the fetal position. He might be a sexist alcoholic Nazi, but Mel sure delivers on the my life is completely messed up acting roles.

Crapola on Apr 19, 2011


wow a wopping 10/10 i knew itll be good 😀

A5J4DX on Apr 20, 2011


Dang! I want to see this movie! Summit needs to get it out there in more theaters now. 

Scott on May 18, 2011

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