Jodie Foster’s third feature as director, The Beaver stars Mel Gibson as Walter Black, a depressed, alcoholic CEO of a toy company, who, in a battle to recover from his depression, starts talking through a beaver puppet in some sort of strange mockney accent.
Sound strange? It is. However, aside from the A-list cast, which also features Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence, and the rather eccentric invention of the beaver itself, it’s actually quite an indie-by-numbers film. With the usual quirky, messed up family narrative (this time it’s a hyper-intelligent son who makes post-it art), clever cinematography (I loved the tracking shot through bedrooms showing Walter and his son getting ready for separate dates), and a soundtrack consisting of semi-obscure indie-rock bands (including Selkirk’s own Frightened Rabbit!).
Underneath all the seen-it-all-before visual style, The Beaver is quite a charming film, admittedly. A lot of the appeal lies in seeing Mel Gibson playing a broken man, especially given that the film was shelved for quite a while following revelations about his private life. Don’t get me wrong, what he did was unforgivable, but watching him play the character of Walter absolutely straight is really impressive.
Even more so, when you took into account that infamous gurner Jim Carrey and serial shouter Steve Carrell were both initially considered for the part, if the film had been left in the hands of either of those actors, I think it would have had a lot more of an emphasis on comedy than drama. Mel Gibson actually does a great job, portraying a man who has absolutely nothing to live for, whilst talking through a toy beaver.
The original script must have been pretty ambiguous, and I could easily imagine The Beaver as a slapstick comedy or an overwrought tragedy. However, Jodie Foster has played it straight down the middle – it’s more like a drama with some laughs. Foster has done a sterling job of juggling direction and a supporting role as Walter’s long-suffering wife, Meredith. A lot of the best scenes in the film are the heated exchanges between Walter and Meredith, who is just trying to find some sort of sign that the man she fell in love with is behind the utterly melancholic shell of a man that Walter has become.
The rest of the film devotes itself Walter’s fraught relationship between his son, Porter, played by Anton Yelchin. Yelchin’s performance is one of utter frustration and hatred towards his father; it’s blatant that Porter, like his mother, wants to shake this awful illness out of his father. There’s also a love story between social outcast Porter, and the straight A student, cheerleader, girl next door, Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), who, despite her popular demeanour, is quite a dark character, and is just as messed up as everyone else in the film.
The Beaver is a film that sounds great on paper, but with its shallow depth cinematography, and dysfunctional family narrative, aside from the character of The Beaver, you can’t help but feel that it has been done better elsewhere. A lot of the appeal is the life-imitating-art car crash that is Mel Gibson.
In America, the film was a complete flop, and at last count, hadn’t even taken one million dollars at the box office. The complete indifference that cinemagoers have shown the film might be down to the fact that these sort of indie dramedy films never do that well at the box office, and it might find its intended audience on DVD, or it might be a case that no one has time for Mel Gibson anymore.
The extras are a little thin on the ground. There are two deleted scenes (one is very good, one not so good), an 11-minute featurette on the making of the film, which was highly enjoyable, and an overly long interview with Mel Gibson.
You can rent or buy The Beaver at Blockbuster.co.uk.