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Review:THE BEAVER

THE BEAVER 

reviewer Goncalo Sousa
Rated: 12a (UK)
Release Date: June 17th, 2011(UK)
DirectorJodie Foster
CastMel GibsonJodie FosterAnton YelchinJennifer Lawrence

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Originally shot in 2009, Jodie Foster’s film The Beaver saw its release delayed when its main star Mel Gibson had a widely publicised personal emotional breakdown, which saw him charged with verbal and physical abuse of his girlfriend in 2010. Released now, in the summer of 2011, The Beaver’s storyline seems to parallel its main star’s real life problems to an almost uncomfortable degree, which might intrigue and repel audiences to a similar degree.

Mel Gibson plays Walter Black, a toy company CEO and family man whose mid-life depression consumes him. Walter sits around the house, lethargic, unable to face life, and this takes a toll on his career, as well as his wife Meredith (played by Jodie Foster) and his two sons. Eventually Meredith kicks him out of the house, and Walter hits an absolute low. One night, sitting on a hotel room floor with a bottle of whisky on one hand and on the other a hand-puppet of a beaver that he had found in the boot of his car, Walter attempts suicide by jumping off the balcony. However, before he does it, the beaver in his hand suddenly turns to Walter, and speaking through his voice tells him not to do it.

From this point on, Walter realises that the only way he can face life is to communicate with people through his hand-puppet, which they are to address as the Beaver. As he returns home, and his wife reluctantly accepts these new and bizarre circumstances, Walter begins to rediscover is place in life, becoming closer to his wife and his young son. However, Walter’s teenage son Porter (played by Anton Yelchin), is plagued by his own problems, and rejects his father’s unorthodox approach to his depression.

Despite the good intentions of everyone involved, which give the film an air of passable quality in its direction and performances, The Beaver ultimately fails to carry its slightly presposterous premise of a man who lives his life through a hand puppet, simply because it is unsure of how to do this. At times Jodie Foster’s direction seems to want to make it clear the film is a comedy, while other times pushing it into melodramatic territory. The main problem with The Beaver is that you expect it will have some card up its sleeve that pulls the whole thing off. Instead it doesn’t. The high-concept of the film is unfortunately backed up with a mediocre suburban family storyline, as well as a ridiculous side-plot of Walter resurrecting his struggling toy company with a beaver-themed product, that weighs the whole film down. This plotline of “bizarre-behaviour that brings the lead character closer to his family, while bringing success at work” seems to be a joyless re-imagining of Mrs Doubtfire. There is also Porter‘s plotline, with shades of American Beauty, which tries to parallel his father Walter’s storyline so bluntly that it feels almost patronising. It does, however, provide the film’s best performance from Jennifer Lawrence, the young star of Winter’s Bone.

These weaknesses separate The Beaver from other films which have had similarly bizarre relationships between men and inanimate objects at their core, such as Lars and the Real Girl, or Castaway. While these films made sure they hit the right tone, with likable lead characters and a strong script, The Beaver offers us the character of Walter, who is simply not that likable, and the audience are given no reason to empathise with his depression. Because the film never quite makes up its mind as to whether it wants to be a serious drama or a quirky comedy, it never goes bravely into either territory, which causes The Beaver to be full of moments where the audience simply breaks away from the reality of the film, and simply laughs at the silliness of a main character who talks to a hand puppet that sounds like a cross between Ray Winstone and Crocodile Dundee.

MOVIE RATING: 2/5

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