Mel Gibson battles depression with talking rodent hand puppet
Starring Mel Gibson & Jodie Foster
Directed by Jodie Foster
Rated PG-13, 91 minutes
Release date May 6, 2011
Once upon a time, and not too long ago, Mel Gibson was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
But in recent years, an ever-darkening cloud of alcohol abuse, rage-filled ranting and racist spew eclipsed the once-golden glow of his professional accomplishments. Many people wondered if Gibson had gone off the deep end.
So it’s (choose one or more) ironic/fitting/weird that his new movie finds Gibson playing a man whose train has definitely left the tracks. In The Beaver, he’s Walter Black, a father, husband and businessman whose life has fallen completely apart due to a prolonged, debilitating depression.
Then Walter finds the beaver.
Actually, it’s a beaver puppet, and it becomes Walter’s surrogate. It talks for him, in a slurred cockney burr that Walter channels from somewhere in his subconscious.
And despite how it sounds, it’s not a comedy.
The Beaver takes its subject of mental illness seriously. Perhaps too seriously: The project was originally intended for either Jim Carrey or Steve Carell. It’s interesting to think of how very different it might have been with either of those two comedic actors in the leading role instead of Gibson, whose personal baggage weighs Walter down with a pathetic sense of damage, doom and gloom.
The beaver never leaves Walter’s left hand. He bathes with it, eats with it, and brushes its bucked teeth. The beaver runs meetings at the toy company over which Walter serves as president. And in a scene that has to be a first for any two actors with four Academy Awards between them, Walter makes torrid love to his wife (Jodie Foster) accompanied by the ever-present puppet.
After Walter’s company hits it big with a woodworking beaver craft kit, inspired by you-know-what, the national media, including Matt Lauer and Jon Stewart, clamor for interviews with Walter’s bizarre spokesrodent.
“Everybody loves a train wreck,” muses the British-sounding beaver.
Foster, who also directs, piles on the symbolism in a subplot about Walter’s teenage son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), whose term-papers-for-hire racket makes him a bit of a “puppet” himself. He has a crush on a pretty high school cheerleader (Jennifer Lawrence) with some bottled-up emotional issues of her own. At one point, Porter rages in frustration until he literally has a “breakthrough” — to the other side of his bedroom wall.
It’s only been in theaters a few weeks, but The Beaver already appears to be box-office road kill. Perhaps moviegoers want to see something funnier, something splashier, something sunnier.
Or maybe they just aren’t interested in seeing Mel Gibson in an onscreen train wreck that reminds them so much of the mess he’s made of his real life.