Review by Jack Foley
MEL Gibson is no stranger to playing tortured souls, so it should come as no surprise to find him at the centre of a film in which a mentally disturbed man resorts to speaking through a stuffed toy beaver to help him re-connect with the world.
What is a surprise, however, is just how poorly mis-handled the ensuing comedy-drama is, especially coming from a director of the calibre of Jodie Foster (who also co-stars).
In psycho-babble terms, The Beaver seems to be suffering from its own illness… that of a split personality, which undermines any of the good work it is ultimately trying to do.
To be fair, Foster is fighting an uphill battle given the sensitive nature of the subject matter and the fact that the film has taken various forms (including a straight out comedy vehicle for Jim Carrey) en route to getting it to the screen.
But even so, there’s no ignoring the fact that The Beaver struggles to work.
Gibson plays formerly successful businessman and family patriarch Walter Black, who has become clinically depressed and suicidal. But when a disused puppet of a beaver ends up on his hand (through an unlikely set of events), the furry ‘psychiatrist’ takes over his life and begins to turn his fortunes around.
His estranged wife (Foster) begins to re-connect with him, as does his youngest son, while profits at his toy company start to rise in line with the promotion of his new Beaver-backed range. But his eldest son (Anton Yelchin) struggles to cope with the new mechanism in their lives, and works overtime to avoid becoming his father’s son while trying to impress the High School top girl (Jennifer Lawrence).
The Beaver wants to be many things but can’t seem to settle on any particular formula. First off, anyone expecting a warm, life-affirming family comedy will be surprised at just how dark things get. And believe me, Gibson’s committed central performance plumbs some despairing depths.
But at the same time, it seeks to lighten the mood with touchy-feely crowd-pleasing moments, a kooky soundtrack that’s woefully out of place, and a coming-of-age sub-plot involving Yelchin that feels superfluous.
Even attempts to sprinkle some humour into Gibson’s storyline backfire, culminating in a quite alarming montage that sees the beaver getting into all facets of the Black family life, including a ménage a trois in the shower!
The juxtaposition of mental health drama and comedy has been achieved before – most notably in Lars & The Real Girl, which remained sensitive and contained characters worth caring for – but in The Beaver it consistently strikes a duff note.
And even the performances suffer as a result, as none of the characters feel particularly real. Gibson’s switch from gruff American to Ray Winstone-sounding cockney whenever he speaks through the beaver is also quite distracting and serves to take you out of the film (which, quite frankly, is often a relief).
The overall result is a misguided venture for all concerned that – aside from disbelieving curiosity value alone – is best avoided.
Running time: 91mins
UK DVD Release: October 10, 2011