Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini

The Beaver

The Beaver
Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Riley Thomas Stewart, Anton Yelchin and Kyle Killen

Rated: PG-13  
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: May 20, 2011 Released by: Summit

Obviously, based on its lead performer, The Beaver would seem like real marketing hassle. After its production, Mel Gibson's self-destructive antics flared up again, in what may look like a comedy, but is more of an ambitious dramedy. For some, one that comes up a little short, at least in its run-time.
But, in Jodie Foster's third film, Gibson adeptly shows why he was a big star (especially during the '90s when starring opposite his director in Maverick). Who is playing the part might be too catastrophic to overcome, but "Starting over isn't crazy...crazy is pretending to be happy" could induce more sympathy than expected.
A "hopelessly depressed man" is Gibson's Walter Black, a deeply crestfallen toy company CEO whose life is (almost) in the dumpster with alcohol and self-contempt. But, the seemingly unconscious guy finds a rejuvenation from a hand-puppet of a beaver.
After long absence behind the camera, Foster (who also plays Walter's wife who has kicked him out of the house) displays more of a tender touch after Home For The Holidays, with Walter becoming social again through the Cockney-accented beaver. Apparently, the puppet allows him to open up in ways he couldn't when burdened with pain and overwhelming wistfulness.
It provides much needed bonding time with his youngest son, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) who likes his dad's new "act" while the older high school senior (who finds writing voices for classmates) son Porter (Anton Yelchin) doesn't want any part of him. A paternal hatred runs in the family as scribe Kyle Killen (a USC graduate) haphazardly underlines the mechanism in dealing with a clinical illness.
The importance of human connection is out there in The Beaver, but not in smooth fashion, as Foster doesn't have the desired dramatic focus. Yet, she instills Gibson with the kind of room to let a sweet fictional presence help someone so damaged in need of personal reconciliation and renewal with loved ones. A character acted out through a character as a means of repairing.

There is a scene with "Walter" and Meredith that might seem awkward, but offers a kind of comedic jolt, as predictability and straightforwardness help achieve a desired positive conclusion from its peculiar premise. Porter's milieu, especially with a troubled class valedictorian, played by Jennifer Lawrence (of the upcoming X-Men: First Class), is more of a pawn of a subplot. Much distracting cross-cutting figures into the latter going of what hardly overstays its welcome, even if individual scenes seem rather lengthy. The reaction to Walter especially in his professional circle appears to be rather accepting.
Having Gibson nearly in every frame might leave some prone to feel that it's almost the kind of rehab experience he needs. Foster and Killen don't modulate all the ups and downs through it all with insight and ambiguity worthy of the gutsy, arguably award-worthy way Gibson's wounded soul becomes proactive again. However, like what Ryan Gosling did in Lars and the Real Girl with a silicone mannequin, there's more sensitivity to difficult subject matter with drastic puppet measures not being as pathetic as the tabloids have made Gibson out to be.

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