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