About a third of the way into The Beaver, I realized that the only humor I was going to find in this flick was to count all of the missed opportunities for beaver jokes. But no, Beaver is not pornographically humorous or all that weird. The only strange part is how serious this movie takes itself. Actually, the puppet itself delivers some one-liners in a Cockney accent, but that's pretty much the only spice in this dismal stew.
A chronically depressed father/husband/executive aptly named Walter Black (Mel Gibson... taking a break from his life as a racist maniac to return to acting), adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his only means of communicating to try to get his life back on track. With this oddball therapy, Walter seems to be getting better: his toy company excels and even gets a blast of positive media attention. But that dang puppet eventually gets in the way of real life and takes a toll on the family.
Conveniently quirky and heavy on the drama, this movie just doesn't know what kind of flick to be. Directed by Jodie Foster (who plays Black's wife) with a screenplay by first-timer writer Kyle Killen, Beaver takes a wacked-out idea and makes it homogeneously familiar. While ideas swarmed in my head as to where I thought The Beaver might go, the plot slugged forward with understated, humorless conviction placing too much emphasis on introspection and self-discovery. Every scene has one or more characters coming to grips with their inner demons, submerged in grave conversations about their troubled lives.
Beaver does boast, however, a standout cast delivering some outstanding performances. Foster and Gibson have come a long way since Maverick. Gibson looks good and haggard and a far cry from his latest drunken rampage. Personal life aside, this dude can act. The sadness he conveys in his eyes takes talent and he nails every scene. I felt Foster just went through the motions while Anton Yelchin (Terminator Salvation) as son Porter and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) as his cheerleader love interest, Norah, both tried to breathe fire into their tame dialogue.
Foster is only marginally impressive as the director, providing an artistic yet by-the-numbers feel. Her choices are too contained and familiar, leaving us wanting more out of such a strange premise. The Beaver, while touching on intense pain and growth from within, is still an old-fashioned, heavy handed, gut-wrenching, emotional flick disguised as "quirky" that wants you to believe that the truth shall set you free and make you cry a bunch. Too clever and forced for its own good, what this flick invokes is so old hat that one new twist can't mask its intentions.
Starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence, Anton Yelchin
Directed by Jodie Foster
Rated PG 13