The Beaver | Film review
Mel Gibson’s problems make The Beaver seem even more serious.
Forget for a minute about Mad Mel. Foster—as a director—is also making a comeback. Her two features, Little Man Tate (1991) and Home for the Holidays (1995), are both flawed but uncommonly thorny family dramas; in The Beaver, she continues the trend, pulling off an unusual mix of tones. Although the premise—a man begins communicating with his family and friends exclusively through a beaver puppet—makes the film sound like a wacky comedy, context is everything: Literally on the verge of throwing himself out a window, successful but clinically depressed family man Walter (Gibson) instead escapes by becoming another person entirely. It just so happens that this “person” is a Cockney-talking beaver.
Foster, who plays Walter’s wife, isn’t above having some fun with this material (the sex scene had the screening audience doubling over), but she mostly treats its dark implications with the sincerity they deserve. While Kyle Killen’s screenplay generally lacks subtlety, it’s to the movie’s credit that it never rationalizes Walter’s depression, explaining it away as the result of a bad business decision or something similar. Perhaps by design, Gibson’s own problems color the proceedings. (The film itself is engaged in an act of siphoning: Its deftest, most improbable achievement is making such a noxious figure cuddly.) On the periphery, you’ll have to put up with some sub–American Beauty nonsense in which Yelchin, as Walter’s similarly afflicted son, helps valedictorian Lawrence exorcise her demons through graffiti art. Still, and third-act troubles notwithstanding, what we have is something unusual: a mainstream American film about mental illness. It acknowledges that life isn’t always rational, that families aren’t perfect and that sometimes even coping can be traumatic.