Film review: The Beaver

The Beaver
2011
Anonymous Content, Fortissimo Films, Participant Media, Imagenation Abu Dhabi

STARRING Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence
WRITTEN BY Kyle Killen
PRODUCED BY Steve Golin, Keith Redmon, Ann Ruark
DIRECTED BY Jodie Foster

SHOT BY Hagen Bogdanski
EDITED BY Lynzee Klingman
MUSIC BY Marcelo Zarvos
DISTRIBUTED BY Summit Entertainment, Icon Productions

Screened 2011-04-08

You saw the trailer and you thought it was a joke. Gibson, of all people, deigning to play in a quirky indy script about puppet-induced psychotherapy – and directed by Jodie Foster, her first project in 16 years? And the title, too – I frequent Mubi.com’s forums (the only internet forums with which I’ll damn well bother) and noticed it didn’t take long for a “Jodie Foster’s Beaver” discussion to begin. So it doesn’t make enough sense to be real, to be serious… but it is real and we’re supposed to take it seriously.

The story is textbook indy material: Gibson plays a father who owns a toy company and is so depressed that he barely functions. Things with wife, Foster, are naturally rocky and his eldest son, who occupies half the film’s screen time, spends a frankly disturbing amount of time charting his father’s neuroses in hopes that he will never act them out himself. One boozy night, Gibson (there’s really no sense in referring to him by his character’s name) pulls a crappy old beaver hand-puppet out of a dumpster and takes it with him. That evening he manages to have a television set fall onto his head and wakes the next morning with the beaver puppet speaking to him – in cockney, which I suppose is meant to be charming (charmy smarmy advice-giver Michael Caine). This character turnaround is weirdly similar to the one Gibson’s character experienced in the numbingly simplistic What Women Want. The beaver says everything Gibson couldn’t say due to despair and kicks his ass into gear, turning his life and company in the right direction. Wheee. The other half of the story is dedicated to Gibson’s son (Gibsonson?) and his “finding my voice” story, which involves what I will call The Impossible Cheerleader. Quantification: this valedictorian cheerleader pays Gibsonson to write the address she will give at high school graduation, since she is far too busy with extracurricular activities to write it herself – they get to know one another and cutely realize that, gosh, they have more in common than either would’ve thought. This cheerleader is played (as well as can be, given the circumstances) by the, yeah, gorgeous and impressive young Jennifer Lawrence, who will apparently go quite far. T.I.C. is extraordinarily self-aware, motivated, involved and somehow also a joiner… while at the same time being highly withdrawn, dressed by a Gap catalogue, and nurturing bizarre antisocial behavior and art projects on the side. She is gorgeous, intelligent, seemingly popular though is never seen with another person. She knows exactly what sort of person she is and where her life is going and is in touch with her own pain. She’s even a bit broody; she is a fictional wet dream.

And then there’s Mel Gibson. He has these two jowls which create almost vertical lines running down his face, basically pointing up to his sinuses. But I noticed something this time which is amusing… apparently new, I noticed two more lines on his forehead which seem like abnormal wrinkles… definitely pronounced wrinkles, and I only know I haven’t seen ones quite like them before. They are like mirror images of his jowl-creases, or like animated “angry eyebrows” which are roughly two slanted lines which are aimed down and stop at his eyebrows. Where am I going with this? Only to note than when these four creases are examined together, one wouldn’t have to squint to notice that a large X has naturally cropped itself onto Gibson’s face. I am not attempting to make fun (though it certainly helps that I don’t care for Gibson), only noting this because I’ve never seen it before and find it… amusing. Gibson’s performance is what gave me the real trouble. The role is pulled off passably, as Gibson is a veteran, but in an utterly superficial manner – the utter “phoning in it” performance. There is a distance behind those eyes of Gibson’s, and I sense a hearty level of condescension. It makes me wonder if we’ve ever gotten to the heart of the man. This particular role is meant for an actor to get into touch with his desperation and bare himself – and who in her right mind would hire Gibson for that? They might hire him because he’s before presented an image of this. Jennifer Lawrence is far more interesting than the tart she plays, Gibson doesn’t come within a mile of pathos, Gibsonson is a squirmy little turd that Mrs. Impossible would never fall for, and this leaves us with Ms. Foster. Why did she do this? The only conclusion I can come to is “business reasons.” Because if it wasn’t business, it demonstrates insight of a rather amateur caliber. The last time I recall seeing Foster was in 2006’s Inside Man, and I really liked her there… maybe more than I’ve ever liked her since Silence and Taxi Driver. I thought her star might be re-rising. So Jodie, wtf is this?

written by David Ashley

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