Genre: Drama, Comedy
Director: Jodie Foster
Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and Anton Yelchin
Mel Gibson was hardly anyone’s favorite person when The Beaver, a movie about a toy executive who uses a beaver hand puppet as an alternate personality to help himself recover from depression, was released last May 2011. It was a box-office flop, which, some say, might be because of Gibson’s recent actions that caused massive negative reaction from everyone. And of course, it is also notable that this is Mel Gibson’s first gig after the major controversy that destroyed his image. Expectations are mixed about the film - some wonder if Gibson’s previous actions could help him get into character.
But, let’s lay off Mel Gibson for a while.
For having a script that was declared as the hottest unproduced script in 2008 for being number one in The Black List, a compilation of screenplays that are most liked by studio and production company executives that haven’t been produced, The Beaver clearly had potential. The concept itself was not really overplayed, which works to the advantage of a film that’s not heavy-handed. Based on dialogue, the script needs more wittiness for the audience to appreciate the puppet-playing more. The rather predictable lines delivered by “the beaver” seem to hide behind the pretentious British accent that Gibson uses to voice the puppet, and nothing more.
The subplot involving the son, played by Anton Yelchin, tries to take on the concept of “taking the voice of others” like some sort of puppet, by being paid to write school papers for his customers, all the while copying what they sound like on paper. The parallelism there was played a bit better than those two stories separated, although quite serves the film’s structure a disadvantage. The main plot involving Gibson’s character didn’t serve as the main arc that drives the movie itself. By the end of it, it would feel as if the story involving the son was the bigger arc.
Foster’s approach to the film is not really at all bad, but it didn’t quite serve the movie’s script justice. Foster made sure that the puppet-playing wouldn’t get shot as every viewer might expect. Instead of showing the puppet alone in the frame during the delivery of its lines, she showed Gibson’s character on the frame delivering the beaver’s lines. She was obviously shying away from a cliché, while also showing the man’s depression through facial expressions in that one single frame. Did it really work? Not quite. It’s as if you’d wish that Foster just went the cliché route and put a spin on it. Instead, the audience got a whole 360°spin on the way it was shot.
It also seemed as if the film itself suffers from a mental disorder that causes it to be confused and out of focus. The structure, as mentioned earlier, is torn on which story should the film take as its main driving force. The climax of Gibson’s character’s arc felt misplaced, causing it to have less impact than expected. And while the son’s arc seemed to be quite interesting at first, the level to which it was underplayed seemed to have dragged down the overall don’t-take-it-too-seriously tone of the film to a level that it was hard to take any of it seriously, given that the film didn’t give any unexpected curve balls by the end for fear of going too dark. Even though the film gives being comedic a try, if there really is a way to make depression comedic, the film failed to find that way.
On a positive note, Gibson was not the only one who gave a good performance. Foster still managed to give a beautiful performance all the while doing her work as the director of the film. Yelchin is a talented actor, and he did his best with the material given to him. Lawrence, on the other hand, after getting her first Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone, played a character that was very different from the one that got her the nomination. Lawrence, as pretty as she can be, didn’t fully make the most out of the role and we all know that she can do better.
As much as I would love a film that could’ve potentially tugged my heartstrings, the film was not that effective in terms of the overall viewing experience. As a dramedy, it’s not that the audience was not “comfortable” with it, as Foster says is the reason why the movie was a flop; it’s the ineffective balance that people would be uncomfortable with. It’s not that people still hate Gibson; it’s Foster, whose bland approach to the concept that the audience can hardly stand. It’s not that the movie is totally bad, but if we’re on the subject of puppet-playing, it had as much impact, if not less, as your typical Sesame Street episode.
(Review by Paul Alcantara)