The Beaver

THE BEAVER is a strange critter of a tale, a 2011 dramedy about genuine pain (depression) being dealt with by bizarre self-medication. Two vaunted stars—one also directing the 91-minute piece—and two promising newcomers work diligently to make an absurd premise work, but this task-challenged rodent bites off more than it can chew (a dam shame, yuk yuk).

Kyle Killen’s script has ‘Walter Black’ (Mel Gibson), CEO of a toy company on the skids, ensnared in depression so severe it ruptures his family. After botched suicide attempts, he finds solace in a discarded toy, a hand puppet of a beaver that he dons and uses “its voice” (it’s his) to communicate. Anxious wife ‘Meredith’ (Jodie Foster) copes to a degree with Walter’s insisted alter-ego, and young son ‘Henry’ thinks dad’s friend is cool, but teenaged ‘Porter’ (Anton Yelchin), already alienated, is disgusted, and he has his own issues, trying to get something going with cheerleader valedictorian ‘Norah’ (Jennifer Lawrence). Everyone is in need of recovery, but it comes at a price, private and public.

Foster directs (her third time out, after Little Man Tate and Home For The Holidays), working with Gibson again 17 years after they teamed up for Maverick. They’re fine, as are Yelchin and Lawrence, but the iffy premise battles them to a draw. There’s no explanation given (other than coy affect) as to why the beaver voice that Walter comes up/out with has an accent, which at first seems Australian but later sounds closer to Cockney.

At any rate, the hard work (Foster called it “probably the biggest struggle of my professional career”) and high hopes went out the window into the dumpster at the box office, the $21,000,000 production earning just $971,000 in the States (197th for 2011), pulling $6,324,000 abroad. It wasn’t the weirdness so much as irony and infamy double-teamed to beat The Beaver senseless. Gibson was adding this extra-addled character to his mini-gallery of psychically wounded guys—Lethal Weapon, The Man Without A Face, Conspiracy Theory, Signs— but it came out on the heels of the actor’s humiliating public meltdowns: the cringing publicity was not the kind to ensure people would line up for a daft idea about a guy cracking up and facing life through a furry puppet. Hand-job jokes are allowable.

With Riley Thomas Stewart (as beav-bemused Henry), Cherry Jones (Walter’s co-worker), and as themselves, Matt Lauer and Jon Stewart.

 

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