Directed by Jodie Foster
Written by Kyle Killen
“The Beaver” is an oddity in the current landscape of film. For one, it features Mel Gibson, the once bankable A-list star who has seemingly disappeared in the last five years. It also features two-time Academy Award winning actress Jodie Foster. The fascinating thing here is that Foster also directs, something she has not done in 15 years. The seemingly old, however, is also melded with young talent like Anton Yelchin (“Terminator Salvation”) and Jennifer Lawrence, who garnered attention for her performance in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone”. All these factors come together for a story that is unique, odd, and endearing on its own.
Gibson plays Walter Black, the CEO of a struggling toy company, the husband in a struggling marriage, and the distant father of two sons. When his wife Meredith (Foster) kicks him out, Walter nears rock bottom in his depression until he finds a beaver puppet, which he uses to redirect all of the negative aspects of his personality. Giving himself a fresh start has Walter on the path to redeem his company, his marriage, and his relationship with at least one of his sons. The other, Porter (Yeltchin), despises his father still, trying not to make the same mistakes as Walter as he attempts to woo the valedictorian, cheerleading Norah (Lawrence). But is the beaver the solution to all of Walter’s problems, or is it simply masking them?
Director Jodie Foster flirts with brilliance throughout, capturing fleeting moments of cinematic perfection. However, the script is a difficult hill to climb. The tone of the whole film is much like a roller coaster, which, ironically, Foster’s character Meredith designs. It keeps moving up and down, which keeps the viewer unsteady throughout. This might be a good effect if the film did not also try at comedy. Assuming the viewer can make the initial acceptance of the situation of a man finding a beaver puppet in the dumpster in order to compensate for his depression and communicate to his family and co-workers, the film is certainly comedic. However, it also deals with very heavy themes and the two are handled inconsistently.
Gibson gives a solid performance, especially considering he has to play the role of “The Beaver” as well. But Yelchin and Lawrence steal the show, providing a sweet, romantic parallel to the struggle of Walter. Yeltchin plays the rebellious youth who makes money writing papers for fellow students quite well and Lawrence shines in limited screen time as the unconventional valedictorian/cheerleader who has a past she struggles to accept. Yetchin and Lawrence are two actors worth paying attention to in the future
What results is an interesting film with enough heart and emotion to balance its twisted dark humor. Foster tells a compelling tale, but she is hampered by a script that feels abrupt at 91 minutes. The plotlines are all somewhat truncated and could have used more time to fully develop. The characters are all worthy of extra time. Perhaps then it would not have sped through all the twists and turns.