They say that “any press is good press,” but we’re pretty sure that Mel Gibson would beg to differ. At this point, his taped rants against ex-girl Oksana Grigorieva are the stuff of tabloid legend; made public last summer, the audio clips, which exposed Gibson’s domestic terrorist side, plunged a dagger into the once-heralded actor’s already damaged reputation.
Perhaps the most tragic victim of Gibson’ mainstream fallout, though, is his latest movie, The Beaver, widely known as the flick in which Crazy Mel talks through a hand puppet and acts especially loony. On paper, The Beaver’s premise reads like a comedy and instantaneously induces disbelieving laughter ; yet, in reality, director, and co-star, Jodie Foster's quirky and surprisingly dark dramedy is quite effective.
Though flawed in its ability to find a central tone, The Beaver is pretty damn funny when it’s not hitting emotional highs. As much as his condemners might not want to hear it, Gibson’s performance is superb, and he’s surrounded by equally on-point supporting players. The Beaver deserves to be seen, both for its proficiency in acting prowess and impressive ability to not turn the deranged-man-and-his-puppet concept into a one-note joke. Will audiences look past Gibson’s recent self-destruction and give Foster’s pic a shot? The prognosis looks bleak, and that’s a shame, really.
Who Knew That Hollywood’s Biggest Pariah And A Puppet Could Generate Both Laughs And Sympathy?
Watching The Beaver, it’s tough to not draw parallels between Gibson’s own strife and the inner conflicts of his character, Walter Black. Walter is a top dog at a toy-manufacturing company who’s sunken into a deep depression, which causes his wife (Foster) to kick him out of their house and his oldest son (played by Anton Yelchin).
“The Beaver is a schizo product that intends to drive home more poignancy than its scatterbrained tone allows.” It doesn’t take long for the mentally off Walt to start talking through his new inanimate friend in random Australian accent (“Hey, mate!”). At first, the beaver allows him to finally communicate with friends and family, and it’s all good; gradually, though, the hand puppet becomes an overbearing Mr. Hyde to Walter’s Jekyll, and that’s when The Beaver careens into heavier territory.
The script, written by Kyle Killen, finds clever ways to draw laughs from the movie’s undeniably bizarre themes. Walter keeps the damn thing on his hand at all times, meaning that he has long-overdue sex with his wife while the beaver is still intact. Once the body-humping is done, both Walt and the beav take deep sighs and catch their breath. Voicing the puppet himself, Gibson anchors The Beaver in what’s essentially a dual role; he’s both the self-contained and pained Walter and the much more confident and manipulative beaver. And through both sides, he gives one of the best performances of his career.
The Beaver Is Unfortunately More Bi-Polar Than Its Star
The Beaver avoids coming off as a one-trick pony through Yelchin’s storyline, which is afforded just as much, if not more, screen time as Gibson’s segments. Walter’s son, Porter, resents his pops simply because he fears that he’s exactly alike daddy; in order to keep track of their parallels, Porter jots down each new similarity he discovers on an index card and tacks it to a wall covered with them.
Yelchin, tasked with providing the movie’s sympathetic core, successfully conveys the torment of a frustrated son, and he’s assisted by recent Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence, who’s on board as Porter’s cheerleader love interest. Together, Yelchin and Lawrence form a solid chemistry that lifts their budding romance above groan-inducing “teen love” clichés and familiarity.
With so much heart-tugging happening at once, The Beaver predictably heads into darker places as Walter succumbs to his beaver-side’s domineering presence. But, in turn, the story begins to feel unfocused; all at once, The Beaver becomes an eccentric comedy, a sinister character study, a father-and-son drama, and a high school romance, and there’s never a firm grasp on one or the other. The performances remain strong and Foster’s direction maintains its subtlety, but The Beaver is ultimately a schizo product that intends to drive home more poignancy than its scatterbrained tone allows.
Still, despite its thematic faults, The Beaver is a fascinating movie, one that, in a more forgiving world, would signal the return of one of Hollywood’s best actors. Too bad Gibson’s real-life image is even crazier than that of a guy who lets a beaver doll dictate his life.