In the wake of embarrassing and terrible personal information bleeding out over tabloid pages and gossip sites, much has been made of Mel Gibson’s attempt to return to the film industry with his most recent film, The Beaver. Even the film’s trailer seems to play up the connection between Gibson’s real life personal troubles and those of his character – which is funny because he’s not the film’s true star.
In a quick prologue of narration and film clips, we’re introduced to the dead-inside toy company CEO Walter Black, whose ambiguous malaise rots his relationship with his family to the point that he combines drinking and a homemade noose. Black then discovers he’s now the proud owner of another personality, represented by a stuffed beaver puppet who plans to whip Black back into emotional shape through the Fight Club school of alter-egos calling for scorched-Earth policies to become our true selves.
Which is compelling for about half of the film. Mel Gibson’s hang-dog Walter vs Black on Beaver crack is like night and day. He begins delighting in his wife and youngest son, and for the first time in a while, genuinely enjoying life. Gibson’s ventriloquist act with the Beaver reminds us why we like Gibson so much in the first place – he can be quite funny and likable.
After that half-way mark, though, the film runs away without the audience. We’re bewildered when Jodie Foster (as wife Meredith Black) and the Beaver yell at Walter, or when Walter yells back. It’s supposed to represent a conflict or frustration we haven’t seen brewing, emotionally making about as much sense as seeing a car crash into an invisible barrier. Chalk it up to the difficulty of showing the effects of depression or lack of proper tension building; the result is that we’re unable to see this character’s transition from crazy to sane (or sanity-crazy-sanity).
Which is where Anton Yelchin (playing Walter Black’s son, Porter) and Jennifer Lawrence (playing love interest, Norah) steal the show. When Mr. Black comes home with the puppet and a funny accent, Porter keeps at a safe distance, continuing to cultivate his forest of Post-its that inform him of the traits he and his father share – and thus must shed. The father-son tension is kept on separate tracks: Walter navigates his relationships with work, his wife, and their youngest son; Porter focuses on avoiding his nutter father and courting the not-so-ditzy cheerleader Norah. Both are dealing with difficulties within their family, and the evolution of their emotional intimacy carries the film to the finish line.
The Beaver has some warts, but is still able to touch some human truths that ring with sincerity. Yelchin and Lawrence act as the film’s savior, but Gibson remains captivating throughout the film. A drama with some serious black comedy, it’s worth a watch.