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.