Mel Gibson Is Crazy (in The Beaver)

Mel Gibson Is Crazy (in <i>The Beaver</i>)

An earnest, intermittently droll dramedy about a manic-depressive toy manufacturer and his bewildered family, The Beaver is a parable that’s not easily parsed. While director Jodie Foster fails to maintain a consistent tone—could there be such a thing as inspirational satire?—the movie’s lopsided wobble is undeniably enhanced by her star, Mel Gibson—or at least by the baggage he schleps into the proceedings.

Walter Black (Gibson) is first seen floating in the chlorinated limbo of his backyard swimming pool; barely able to formulate a sentence, he’s been diagnosed as “hopelessly depressed” and, once his exasperated wife (Foster) kicks him out of their Westchester digs, he’s ineptly suicidal. As Walter trembles, drunk and disconsolate, on the ledge of his motel roof, the movie’s mysterious Cockney-accented voiceover (a ruder version of the gecko that sells insurance on TV) is revealed to be that of Walter’s manic self—a ratty hand-puppet discovered in a dumpster that, once it starts talking to him, offers a means to reinvent himself back into the world.

There’s no attempt to make it seem that Walter can throw his voice; on the contrary, the camera tends to focus on Gibson’s lips flapping as he brandishes the puppet he’s dubbed The Beaver. Still, Kyle Killen’s script, a highly regarded property long thought impossible to produce, elaborates on the ventriloquism theme with a subplot involving Walter’s eldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin); busy as a beaver furnishing term papers to order, this Ivy League–bound high school senior is hired by the school’s smartest girl (Jennifer Lawrence) to ghostwrite her valedictorian address.

The gentle, fatherly touch of Mel Gibson
Ken Regan
The gentle, fatherly touch of Mel Gibson

Details

The Beaver
Directed by Jodie Foster
Summit Entertainment
Opens May 6

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Speaking through, even as he hides behind, his furry friend, Walter returns home. His younger son is delighted; his wife gets with the program once The Beaver explains that he’s been prescribed by a shrink. Walter jogs and showers with the puppet; he also uses it to address his employees, inspiring them to mass-produce something called the “Mr. Beaver Wood-Cutting Kit.” The puppet is even there for the movie’s kinkiest (and most inadvertently funny) scene, as Gibson enacts some hot conjugal sex with the movie’s perpetually harried-looking director.

Gibson gives Walter’s manic jag suggestive verisimilitude—particularly after the wood-cutting kit becomes a runaway hit and he takes to the airwaves, appearing with the Beav on Good Morning America, riffing with Jon Stewart and interviewed by Terry Gross, who wonders why he needs his prop for a radio show. There’s no way that Jim Carrey or Steve Carell, each formerly attached to the project, could have supplied this frisson. Gibson may be no one’s idea of a method actor, but his pleasure playing nut-jobs, most apparent in the comic thriller Conspiracy Theory, seems weirdly confessional. (His more celebrated predilection—being beaten up on-screen—is also present, at the hand [sic] of The Beaver.)

Shot in autumn 2009, The Beaver was shelved when the monster from the Gibson id erupted last summer with revelations that he was verbally and physically abusing his girlfriend, and it has returned as something like a celluloid explanation. (Gibson pleaded no contest to a battering charge a week before the movie had its world premiere at SXSW.) Thanks to this lurid prequel, The Beaver manages to be both exploitative and humanizing; thanks to Gibson’s convincing conviction, it goes surprisingly deep into madness before resolving itself in a nimbus of New Age platitudes.

Foster might have treated the material as an E.T.A. Hoffmann tale of demonic possession or a believe-it-or-not Oliver Sacks case history, with the puppet functioning as Walter’s transitional object. Instead, she takes it at face value. Is The Beaver an allegory on acting? Directing? It’s tempting to imagine Foster herself talking through the increasingly nasty puppet; the movies this former child-star has directed or produced have been notably interested in unique prodigies with unusual ways of communicating.

In Little Man Tate, Foster directed herself as the mother of an immaculately conceived kid genius; in Nell, Foster herself was the genius, a backwoods wild child with an invented language. She takes the maternal role in The Beaver—allowing Gibson the fun of babbling on like a hyperactive eight-year-old—but she clearly identifies, having cited her own struggle with depression in flacking the movie. Perhaps that’s the problem. Mel’s character isn’t on Prozac, but the movie is—a succession of bland camera setups, cued to a highly conventional score. Would that the direction were half as nutty as the script or as wacked-out as its star!

 
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6 comments
Brooklyn Bridges
Brooklyn Bridges

I absolutely loved this movie and I would recommend this movie to anyone because it’s just that good. I’ve loved Mel Gibson for a while now and although he’s done and said some pretty bad things, that doesn’t take away the fact that he’s an amazing actor. I’d recommend this movie to anyone and I just found out that it’s available at Blockbuster and there’s a new promotion for new DISH Network customers that allows them to use the Blockbuster by Mail offer to try out the service free for 3 months and it’s not limited to movies or TV shows and games are included. Customers can do five in-store exchanges per month so they won’t have to wait for the next one to get shipped out and there are no due dates or late fees. DISH will also get new releases before Redbox or Netflix and can access the blu-ray copies for no additional price. There are a lot of other reasons to switch to DISH Network and they include the TV Everywhere feature that utilizes Sling Technology so customers can watch live or pre-recorded shows on their mobile device without being at home. DISH has award winning DVR technology so customers will get the best equipment on the market and now that I work at DISH, I’m always recommending that people check it out at http://bit.ly/l77URa!

guest
guest

He is not manic-depressive. Just depressed. They are not the same illness.

Mdmcfadden
Mdmcfadden

Everyone is so perfect here right? Review the film and pass on the self-righteousness

Sakara
Sakara

This movie sounds as UNINTENIONALLY STUPID as the fake tv pilot 'seinfeld" episode in which the court orders somebody to be his butler.

and the script was a "highly regarded property"????????????????????

Rebbjohnson
Rebbjohnson

That Seinfeld episode where the court ordered the defendant to be Jerry's butler was pretty funny....

Sickofurcrap
Sickofurcrap

Well your a genius to make assumptions about that which you know nothing!

 

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