' ' Cinema Romantico: The Beaver

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Beaver

Of course an actor's or filmmaker's off screen transgressions has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of a film but they can, in certain instances, affect the context. Mel Gibson, star of "The Beaver", directed by and co-starring Jodie Foster, has had his share of, shall we say, disagreeable off screen transgressions in the last few years, a fact which does not prevent Gibson from throwing himself into the role of Walter Black, "a hopelessly depressed individual", with a fairly patient but tired wife Meredith (Foster) and two young sons, who, in the deepest fit of that depression, is kicked out of the house, retreating to a hotel room with a bottle of vodka and a puppet in the form of a beaver that for some mystical reason he has rescued from the trash, intent on committing suicide by leaping from his balcony until, at the last second, a voice jolts him to safety.

That voice belongs to Walter. Well, not really. It is the voice of the beaver on his left hand. And, thus, Walter determines the beaver needs to stay with him. He draws up cards, explaining the situation, how his physician thinks it best everyone goes along and lets him see through this "phase", and returns home to his wife and kids, all of whom accept this unique but seemingly improved version of Walter. That is, almost all of them. Meredith and their youngest son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) go along but Porter (Anton Yelchin), a senior in high school who makes money by writing students' papers in their respective voices, is less than ecstatic his father has been let back in after having finally been let go. Walter and The Beaver return to the flailing company of which he is President and immediately proposes an idea for a - you guessed it - beaver hand puppet that becomes an overnight smash success.

The movie hits all the beats you expect it to and, for the most part, hits them in just the way you anticipate and at times becomes over-reliant on the montage (you're better than that, Jodie) but the film's primary issue is its tone. It waffles. At times you sense a riff on a film like the superior "Lars and The Real Girl", a heightened fable, such as in the office scenes and in those moments when Walter and The Beaver make the rounds on national TV. But then it turns around and wallows in the darkness, occasionally really wallowing in it but occasionally refraining from taking it as far as it could. He and his wife have sex with The Beaver right there and it's never clear whether this is supposed to be funny or freaky.

As a whole, "The Beaver" becomes more than it is because of its performances, and not just Gibson, who does not do a ventriloquest act here, rather moving his mouth in tune with The Beaver, yet still somehow giving two separate performances - dying and fighting to stay alive - and leaving you thinking not that everything's gonna be all right but that maybe everything's gonna be all right.

But the film's finest performance belongs to Jennifer Lawrence in the typical throwaway role of Norah, the uber-hot valedictorian, who hires Porter to pen her graduation speech since she is having a serious case of writer's block. Sure, she is given just a touch more shading than is normally allowed, getting a bit of backstory while also finding herself transformed by Porter as opposed to being around solely to transform him. Still, there isn't an exorbitant amount of depth to the writing of Norah and Lawrence, the recent Best Actress nominee for her marvelous work in "Winter's Bone", shapes a fully realized individual who is closed off and tight lipped for a reason while also playing that aloofness in a way to mirror all those high school girls who know full well they can manipulate idiot teenage boys at a whim. She got game.

"The Beaver" obviously does not absolve Mel Gibson of his sins and even though I bought a ticket for his film it seems fairly likely the guy is a sexist, homophobic anti-semite. I'm pretty sure I don't like him. Still, what I can't get over was how so many people piled on Jodie Foster for openly coming to the defense of someone she genuinely seems to consider her friend, despite his terrible faults and weaknesses. Kyle Killen's screenplay for "The Beaver", written some years ago, unwittingly makes a case for both the character Gibson plays and Gibson himself. How the hell can someone get better if no one will stand up for them?


Castor said...

I wanted to see this and I think I will really enjoy it (I've read the script) but the somewhat mixed reviews and the fact that I have to drive 15 miles to go see it have somewhat reigned in my desire to see it in theater. I will definitely look for it on DVD though :)

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, it's definitely not worth a 15 mile trip.