Review: The Beaver (SXSW)
PLOT - Walter Black is a toy executive who takes pills, reads horrible self-help books and sleeps all day to cope with debilitating depression. When his wife kicks him out of the house, he finds a beaver puppet, which accidentally thwarts a suicide attempt. Upon awakening, The Beaver has taken on a personality of his own and is guiding Walter on a new path towards enlightenment.
REVIEW - There's a moment towards the end of THE BEAVER when Anton Yelchin, who plays the son of Mel Gibson's Walter, is admiring a piece of artwork created by his high school classmate Norah (Jennifer Lawrence). He thinks is amazing and she thinks it's a mess. They come to the conclusion that in life, everything is a little bit of both.
Kyle Killen's script for THE BEAVER has been floating around Hollywood since 2008, when it topped that year's Black List for Best Unproduced Screenplays. Actors like Steve Carell and Jim Carrey were attached before Gibson finally signed on to the film. Much has been made about Gibson's personal drama and how that would affect the success of the film. But Gibson's performance is actually the best part of THE BEAVER and if the film has issues, which it certainly does, they have nothing to do with its controversial star.
It's hard to watch this film, which is hardly a comedy, and imagine either Carell or Carrey in the lead as it's a role that's perfect for Gibson both prior to and after his recent issues. Walter is a successful but chronically depressed and alcohol-abusing man who's watching helplessly as his life unravels around him. It's hard to tell if any of Gibson's performance is informed by his personal life but watching his work in the film, you can't help but wonder if he dug deep into his own psyche to tackle the role.
Jodie Foster pulls double duty on THE BEAVER, starring as Walter's wife who, despite her best intentions, is nearing the end of her rope with her husband and directing Killen's script. While she, as you might expect, has no problem holding her own on screen against Gibson and the puppet on his hand with the cockney accent, her work behind the camera leaves more to be desired.
THE BEAVER is Foster's first directorial effort in over 10 years and the complex tonal changes in Killen's script would be a struggle for even the most tested director. It's a movie dealing with a very serious subject matter using a very absurd and simplistic plot device that works when written on page. On screen, the movie doesn't quite work as well as the dramatic shifts jerk and lurch along instead of flowing smoothly within and alongside each other.
Which is not to say that THE BEAVER never works. It's an often good and occasionally great film but also a very uneven one. There are many moments from both ends of the tonal spectrum that work very well. I just wish Foster were able to more adroitly edit them together.
The acting is brilliant across the board with both Yelchin and the almond-eyed Lawrence shining in a subplot about the difficulties of writing a commencement speech.
If it iss indeed true that in life, everything is a little bit amazing and a little bit of a mess, THE BEAVER proves that point in more ways that one.
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