After inheriting the toy manufacturer Jerry Co, Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is taken over by a depression that threatens his company as well as his family. All he can do is sleep, much to the consternation of his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) and his sons Porter (Anton Yelchin) and the younger Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). Thrown out of the house, he is preparing to brood alone; as he is dumping some personal belongings from the boot of his car to make way for a crate of booze, he decides to keep the beaver hand puppet from his childhood. To his surprise, the beaver begins to be his mentor and guide, speaking for him and enabling him to communicate with the world. But this arrangement has several deep downsides, not least with his older son Porter, who used to want to emulate his dad, and who has befriended (Jennifer Lawrence) at school, a bright girl who tests him.
Review by Louise Keller:
The ominous cloud of mental illness hovers over this drama about a man whose problems threaten to destroy his life and fracture his family. Kyle Killen's screenplay brings a comical touch to a serious subject, when the troubled protagonist, played by Mel Gibson, finds his voice through a hand-held puppet. Like the aptly named Walter Black, Gibson has had plenty of his own troubles of recent times, all of which have been publicly played out and he is well suited to the role of the man suffering depression.
Directed by talented Jodie Foster, who makes a welcome return to the screen as Walter's impotent wife Meredith, the film never trivialises the topic, revealing there are no easy answers for people suffering a condition that requires support and understanding. It's a moving story that doesn't always work, but Foster is able to describe the family's ripple effect with a light touch.
When we are introduced to Walter Black (Gibson), he is in a sorry state. He spends his life sleeping in order to escape from his own reality. As a result his family is in chaos. His younger son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) has become solitary and teenager son Porter (Anton Yelchin) is increasingly paranoid, jotting down any similarities he has with his father on post-it notes which he sticks on his bedroom wall.
He bashes his head against the wall in frustration. Walter's caring wife Meredith (Foster) is at a loss and is now keen to salvage the sanity of her sons. It is a well-worn furry hand puppet shaped like a beaver salvaged from the rubbish that becomes Walter's external voice of reason, creating a psychological distance from himself.
At first, when Walter assumes two personalities - his own and that of the Beaver, it is difficult to know where we should look. Do we look at Gibson or the puppet? These are the moments when it is hardest for us to take a leap of faith. With a Michael Caine-like voice, the Beaver starts speaking for Walter and Walter keeps his new friend close - as he showers, irons a shirt, dresses and sleeps. Some of these scenes border on the ridiculous. At Walter's toy factory, he speaks to his employees through the puppet, giving rise to the expression - talk to the hand.
The subplot involving Yelchin's angry Porter, who finds himself involved in the problems of his college friend Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) works extremely well. Norah is the girl most unlikely to have problems, yet these are drawn out beautifully, with both Yelchin and Lawrence delivering strong performances.
There's a strong and positive sub-text to the story, offering a depth of understanding to an often considered subject that is taboo. But whether audiences will buy Gibson talking with the hand is another question.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Walter (Mel Gibson) is showing signs of depression, the kind that makes him sleep through anything, even family photo sessions. He's lost interest in and communication with the whole world, including his wife and kids. He sleeps at board meetings, his company's shares are tanking.
His wife has run out of patience and throws him out - and on the way to some bleak 10th floor room with a balcony (important detail for later) Walter buys some provisions, largely bottles of grog. To make room in the boot, he discards a tennis racket and a box which contains a furry old beaver hand puppet. He takes it back from the dumpster. It saves his life, so to speak, although we never learn if the beaver had any special significance in his childhood.
After a failed and drunken suicide attempt (including use of said balcony), Walter is assaulted by the beaver hand puppet, which has taken up a permanent position on his left forearm and hand. The beaver speaks with a gruff cockney accent and becomes Walter's alter ego. He only communicates through the beaver, even at work and in restaurants.
Older son Porter (Anton Yelchin) just can't handle this, but little Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) comes alive when his dad, bevaer and all, takes to spending time with him in the garage, making things out of wood.
His wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) reluctantly goes along with the therapy, and having taken him back into the house and into the marital bed, even allows the beaver to stick around for some sex.
Things take a turn for the better when Walter has the idea to market beavers in a woodworking kit, sending his company's fortunes into overdrive, and lending him on magazine covers and TV shows, beaver included.
Things soon get worse again, though, with Porter's involvement with pretty Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) leading to trouble. As Walter realises he can't rely on the beaver any longer, he discovers the beaver won't let go. Bad things happen but Walter has to find a way of surviving his decision and get himself together - with the love of his family.
It is a totally manufactured product, this film, completely free of sincerity and reality. All the same, some of the cast, notably Lawrence and the two boys, deliver excellent performances. Foster herself and Gibson especially, just act.
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BEAVER, THE (M)
CAST: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence, Anton Yelchin, Jon Stewart, Michelle Ang, Riley Thomas Stewart, Zachary Booth, Michael Rivera,
PRODUCER: Steve Golin, Keith Redmon, Ann Ruark
DIRECTOR: Jodie Foster
SCRIPT: Kyle Killen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hagen Bogdanski
EDITOR: Lynzee Klingman
MUSIC: Marcelo Zarvos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Friedberg
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 4, 2011
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.