Art im­i­tates Gib­son’s life in ‘Beaver’

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

Like its name­sake crea­ture, associated with both wa­ter and trees, “The Beaver” is nei­ther fish nor fowl but a gen­uine odd­ity. Maybe it should have been ti­tled “The Platy­pus.” If the Mem­phis Zoo ac­quires a platy­pus, I rec­om­mend you go see it. I’m not sure what to tell you about “The Beaver.”

Writ­ten by Kyle Killen and di­rected by Jodie Fos­ter (the two-time Os­car-win­ning Best Ac­tress pre­vi­ously di­rected 1991’s “Lit­tle Man Tate” and 1995’s “Home for the Hol­i­days”), “The Beaver” stars Mel Gib­son as Wal­ter Black, a “hope­lessly de­pressed” hus­band, fa­ther and toy com­pany ex­ec­u­tive who tries to pull him­self out of a sui­ci­dal funk through the rad­i­cal, self-im­posed ther­apy of a ratty beaver hand pup­pet, which he finds by chance in a trash bin.

Wal­ter de­cides to wear the pup­pet full time, and to speak only as the beaver. He in­sists that ev­ery­body — in­clud­ing his wife (Fos­ter), em­bar­rassed teenage son (An­ton Yelchin) and de­lighted youngest son (Ri­ley Thomas Ste­wart) — ad­dress the beaver as if it were alive. Wal­ter an­swers in a coarse, cock­ney “voice” he at­tributes to his “pre­scrip­tion pup­pet.” This be­hav­ior is freaky, per­haps even in­sane, but at least Wal­ter is in­ter­act­ing with the world again, his wife ra­tio­nal­izes.

All too pre­dictably, Wal­ter finds re­newed pop­u­lar­ity through the beaver. He be­comes a sex ma­chine in the bed­room, and he rein­vig­o­rates his com­pany’s for­tunes with a line of wood-chop­ping kits. He be­comes Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lar nut job, ap­pear­ing on the cov­ers of fa­mous mag­a­zines. (Is it the sense of priv­i­lege and celebrity al­ready at work in­side their heads that ex­plains why so many Hol­ly­wood film­mak­ers in­sist that their quirky in­spi­ra­tional char­ac­ters find not just hap­pi­ness but also na­tional fame? For ex­am­ple, in “Toot­sie,” when Dustin Hoff­man dressed as Dorothy, he didn’t just be­come a bet­ter per­son, he be­came a sen­sa­tion and made the cov­ers of Peo­ple and TV Guide.)

“The Beaver” is the first Mel Gib­son movie to be re­leased since the for­mer Mad Max be­came an in­dus­try pariah thanks to the leaked record­ings of his scary tirades against his ex-girl­friend, filled with racist in­sults and ap­par­ent death threats. It’s hard not to con­nect the dis­turbed Wal­ter Black with Gib­son him­self. “Peo­ple seem to like train wrecks — when it isn’t hap­pen­ing to them,” Wal­ter-the -beaver opines. At one point, he says he wants to snatch his life back from the “blood­suck­ing rab­ble.”

The script, thank good­ness, takes a left turn rather than head­ing straight for the Hap­pily Ever Oprah up­lift­ing con­clu­sion we an­tic­i­pate. Even so, it’s over­writ­ten. Wal­ter’s wife is a roller-coaster en­gi­neer; there­fore — aha! — she’s fa­mil­iar with life’s ups and downs. The teenage son helps the pretty head cheer­leader (Jen­nifer Lawrence) re­dis­cover her de­sire to be a “rebel” graf­fiti artist. The son also has a tal­ent for “get­ting in­side” other peo­ple’s heads, even with­out the aid of a beaver pup­pet; his class­mates hire him to write school pa­pers that mimic their dis­tinc­tive, in­di­vid­ual voices.

This is pre­sented as teen busi­ness as usual. Ap­par­ently, it’s not un­usual in Fos­ter/Gib­son cir­cles for kids to be able to spend $200 to $500 a pop on ghost­writ­ten class as­sign­ments.

“The Beaver” is ex­clu­sively at Malco’s Ridge­way Four.

— John Bei­fuss: 529-2394

Ken Re­gan Sum­mit En­ter­tain­ment

Mel Gib­son’s de­pressed toy com­pany ex­ec­u­tive re­dis­cov­ers his voice through a stuffed toy in “The Beaver.” Ri­ley Thomas Ste­wart plays his young son.

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