Despite the star power of Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson (or possibly because of it in Gibson’s case) The Beaver was a flop at the box office last year, winding up with only a limited, art house run in the US.
Given the premise of the film…a depressed, middle-aged man sticks a beaver-shaped puppet on hand and speaks through the furry appendage in an effort to overcome his psychosis…it was always going to be a hard sell. But, I have to say, once I took the time to give the film a chance, I found it quite rewarding.
The story is as follows…Mel Gibson plays a severely depression married man, Walter Black, with two sons. He also runs a toy company that was begun by his father. His family finally has had enough of his destructive behaviour and his wife, played by Jodie Foster (who also directs), throws him out. Older son Porter, a senior in high school, is happy to see the back of his depressed dad, but younger son Henry is shattered.
Henry becomes even more depressed and attempts to hang himself in his hotel shower. When that fails, he climbs on a ledge and, just before he jumps, he hears a voice come from a beaver hand puppet he recently found in the rubbish. From then on, Walter takes on the persona of The Beaver and only speaks through it. In “beaver” mode, he becomes a new man, communicative and sociable.
Of course, this all sounds preposterous, and it does take some getting used to. But once you get used to the premise, the film unfolds to reveal a well-crafted study on human nature and family interactions.
Porter’s character serves to provide a parallel plot line. He is obsessed with any resemblance he shares with his damaged father. At school, he writes papers for other students for a price and eventually meets up with Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) the pretty, bright cheerleader and valedictorian who has her own issues to deal with.
As unconventional as the initial premise is, the resulting film eventually becomes a rather traditional feel-good Hollywoodfilm. Perhaps that juxtaposition was too confusing for casual moviegoers when the film was theatrically released. Now that it is on DVD, perhaps it is time to give The Beaver a second chance.