AWFJ Women On Film – “The Beaver” – Review by Susan Granger

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It’s a hard sell – this sometimes maudlin melodrama about mental illness and its destructive effect on a marriage and a family, starring one of Hollywood’s most talented yet self-destructive actors.

In the first scene, toy company executive Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is lying on a float in his pool, arms outstretched as if he were on the cross, as a Cockney-accented narrator clarifies: “This is a hopelessly depressed individual.”

Dejected and drunk, Walter is so unhappy that he seriously considers suicide – until a discarded beaver hand puppet that he’s pulled out of the trash begins to talk to him. Explaining the Cockney-accented beaver as “a prescription puppet,” Walter begins to emerge from emotional isolation, much to the delight of his young son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), to the bewilderment of his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) and to the consternation of his conflicted teenage son Porter (Anton Yelchin) who takes money for writing other students’ term papers and has a crush on the class cheerleader/valedictorian Norah (Jennifer Lawrence).

With the bossy, buck-tooted beaver firmly affixed to his arm, Walter admits, “People have to doubt your sanity a little (but) Mozart was known to meow like a cat.”

While first-time screenwriter Kyle Killen certainly didn’t write the Oedipal, occasionally comedic screenplay about dissociative identity disorder with Gibson in mind – it was shopped around for several years previously – there are so many scenes in which absurdist fiction intersects with fact that the visceral parallels propel a jarring return to reality. Unevenly directed by Jodie Foster (“Little Man Tate,” “Home for the Holidays”), it was filmed between Gibson’s arrest for drunk driving, during his divorce and the release of his abusive, profanity-laden rants at the Russian-born mother of his infant daughter. So much of his inner turmoil is mirrored on the screen that Gibson ‘s anguished performance is not only believable but insightful and compelling.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Beaver” is a sad, sobering 7, emerging as a bizarrely depressing and disturbing cinematic interlude with a contrived conclusion.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.