By Noah Lee | May 7, 2011

This review was originally published on March 17, 2011

Last night the premier of Jodie Foster’s latest directorial effort, “The Beaver,” was shown to a first time audience with director Foster, co-star Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”) and writer Kyle Killen in attendance. Before the movie was shown, Foster, coming off as quite charming and down to earth, said that “The Beaver” was not a comedy. She’s correct as while it has comedic moments, it is a darkly disturbing drama about a man, in the throes of depression, seeking redemption after a failed suicide attempt. Much will be made about Mel Gibson’s starring role given his recent past, but his portrayal of Walter Black, a man who has now chosen to use a beaver puppet to convey his true emotions, is so believable and heartfelt, I never once thought about his social life.

Walter Black’s depression has lasted two years, driving a wedge into his family as all he ever does is sleep. His two sons, Porter (Yelchin) and younger son Jared (Zachary Booth), are now distant from him. Porter has become so removed from his father he has decided he wants to be nothing like him, creating a wall of post-it notes documenting their similar traits and saving up money by writing papers for his schoolmates to fund a trip through America to try and lose these similarities one by one. Walter’s wife Meredith (Foster) is clearly upset, but dealing with it best she can, working from home and taking care of Jared. One inevitable evening, straw broken, family gone, Walter finds himself drunk in a hotel room with a beaver puppet he rescued from a dumpster, and he tries, unsuccessfully, to end his life. In waking, that puppet, The Beaver (yes that is his name), is now Walter’s voice and his road to redemption.

“The Beaver” is successful on many levels but the biggest strength lies in the script by Austin native Kyle Killen. A story about how we all have struggles in life and how it’s half full of comedy and half of drama; how having a companion to get through life makes it bearable. Recalling the dark comedies of Bobcat Goldthwait (“World’s Greatest Dad,” “Shakes the Clown”), Killen’s script is twofold; one a love story of the younger Porter as he falls for his classmate Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), who is a cheerleader with more going on behind the scenes than expected, and the other, Walter and The Beaver’s journey out of darkness. These parallel journeys, told through an intense mix of comedic moments covered in a grey cloud, are interwoven in a tightly meshed script that only talents like Foster and her outstanding cast could make shine.

Gibson’s Black is a multi-layered character, expressing a Cockney accented beaver as the id to his ego. Like a Henson-esque puppeteer, never faltering, The Beaver becomes his own character, mouth chattering on every word and gasping through heavy breathing. Gibson really is Black, a man trying to crawl from that hole of depression, eyes intense and heart heavy. He does have his lighthearted moments, as well, showering and making love with a puppet on his hand, imagery that will make even the most jaded of Gibson haters laugh. When asked about his casting, Foster stated that he is one of the most beloved actors in Hollywood, along with Chow Yun-Fat, an odd comparison for sure. She also stated that she has no regrets for his casting and she should not, as it’s inspired and the performance stands on its own, being maybe one of his finest and most complex roles.

Foster laughed during a query about whether she had difficulties in being both a director and actor in her film, a choice she said she would never do again after “Little Man Tate,” but was convinced into the role by Gibson who had faith in her. Very few actresses could play Meredith with the care and depth she has. Yelchin, wonderful as the young Porter, addresses his character as one who has built up dams around his emotions and is learning to address his own fears, rather than learning to speak through others, as he does via the papers he sells for fellow students. Jennifer Lawence is perfectly charming as the complex Norah, who similar to Porter, is hiding her true emotions as she goes day to day as the head cheerleader and valedictorian, yet never reveals her real depression from loss.

While featuring a well written script, solid direction and a cast of Oscar nominees and winners, “The Beaver” ultimately never really connects to true human emotion through the very nature of its absurdity. Any depth within is sure to be lost when the smiling face of The Beaver is plastered across movie theaters. Sure, a man using a beaver puppet as his voice, unable to relate to his family and co-workers is a hoot, but who can relate? It’s this outlandish idea that will keep “The Beaver” from ever being anything more than a solid little film that is nothing more than a nice way to spend a trip to the theater. Its lasting appeal is questionable and don’t expect to look for it come awards season, but it’s a movie that deserves to be seen.

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