'The Beaver' (PG-13) (3 1/2 stars)
Writer: Kyle Killen
Director: Jodie Foster
Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence,
Riley Thomas Stewart, Cherry Jones
Yes, "The Beaver" carries a lot of baggage with it and it is not an easy movie to watch but it hit me like Thor's hammer. I guess it is how you can take the very offbeat, dark subject matter. Oh the movie does get very serious towards the middle but the screenplay is compelling and thoughtfully written.
"The Beaver" tells the story of Walter Black who is in a very deep depression when we first see him. He is becoming estranged from his wife and two sons. He is told by his wife Meredith to move out until he can come back and be there for his family. Walter finds a beaver puppet in a dumpster, wakes up the next day and starts to talk through his puppet. He talks to everyone, his wife, sons and co workers through this beaver puppet with an Australian accent.
So in describing the story of "The Beaver" you are probably thinking I am not going to see this weird, dumb sounding movie. What will surprise many who are looking for something challenging like me is how powerful and smart this movie is. This is not just a movie about Walter talking through a puppet. It is about how depression carries through generations of a single family. It is about a son trying to find acceptance from not only his dad but from a girl he really likes in school. It is about how a marriage can be challenged by a partner who can't cope with life.
After a little bit I even forgot about the plot device of the beaver for the movie starts to get deeper and goes off in different, wonderful directions. I love that the movie is not cookie cutter or simple, depression is not a subject matter that can be handled easily with simple answers. I love Jodie Foster and the fact that she takes on difficult subject matter to direct like this and movies like "Home For the Holidays".
This mirrors her acting career and Foster never acted in easy movies that were Hollywood manufactured. Now you know why she is one of my favorite actresses.
I love movies like "The Beaver" that a lot of people will hate but that I crave. I love being challenged, I like offbeat material that has no rythym. I like movies that look through life in a realistic way, life's problems are not handled like they are in a sitcom and most movies. I was also moved by one of the movie's messages that I also believe in. At first you might think the movie is awkward and fake for Walter bringing in the beaver puppet to cope with his depression. You think that a doctor would never prescribe something outrageous like this. I didn't mind it because I believe what Walter does. I am not a very pro therapist, psychiatrist, medication person. I think you can only help yourself because no one will ever know what is inside your brain, no one! Also no pill can fix anyone's brain and more importantly no pill can fix your life's problems.
Okay I will now get off my soap box and tell you what transpires in the middle and end of this movie that made me forget about the beaver gimmick. I loved how the movie looked at Walter's past, his father's depression and then at how his older son is also starting to feel the effects of depression. I loved the sweet, smart and well written love story between Walter's son Porter and a girl in school played by the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence again proves she is a special actress that will always be great and Anton Yelchin as Porter gives his best performance. Jodie Foster and Kyle Killen have taken a deep screenplay and made a great emotional and rewarding movie.
I will get to the elephant in the room and comment on Mel Gibson's performance as Walter. I really don't care what an actor says or does in his personal life short of rape and murder. If I cared about what an actor or a celebrity said or did in their lives I wouldn't be going to half of the movies out there. Mel Gibson gives a very brave performance and is very effective here. It did not matter to me about Gibson's private mistakes watching him here. I thought his performance was real and he takes what could have been a disastrous performance and turns it into gold. I also love that Gibson uses his Australian accent, something he hasn't used since 1982 in "The Road Warrior".
There are some very well written scenes between Walter and his younger son, Walter and his wife and also between Porter and Norah, the girl he likes. There are some powerful looks at depression, marriage and the relationship betwen fathers and their kids. At the end I even forgot how jarring the plot development of the beaver puppet made me feel at first. There is also a very powerful and well written speech by Norah at the end of the movie that is flawlessly acted by Jennifer Lawrence that blew me away and choked me up. As I am writing this review "The Beaver" has still got me thinking and getting emotional. I don't know how Foster has done it but she has made one of the riskiest stories into one of the best movies of the year.
P.S. Earlier in my review I mentioned Foster's acting career and the wonderful choices she made of challenging, offbeat, dark movies to act in. I also loved that she took those choices and transformed them into the type of movies she looks for to direct. I am suggesting some movies to check out that star Foster that a lot of people haven't seen and they are some of my all time favorite movies.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (76)
Bugsy Malone (80)
Five Corners (88)