Directed by Jodie Foster
Starring Mel Gibson, Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence
If you can distract yourself from the distraction that is Mel Gibson’s disastrous personal life, “The Beaver” is an effectively disturbing portrait of a man trying to cope with serious mental problems.
Gibson stars as Walter Black, a depressed father of two who hits rock bottom when his wife (Jodie Foster) kicks him out. On the verge of suicide, he’s rescued at the last minute by a beaver puppet that he recently found in a trash bin. The beaver speaks, except of course it’s not the beaver speaking: It’s Walter, and it’s through this dissociative mind trick that he gets a second lease on life. Through the beaver, he channels an alternate personality that is upbeat, confident and happy — and loved by everyone.
Walter jogs with the beaver, showers with it, blowdries its fur. You’re inclined to laugh, until the implications of his hang-up become weirder and grimmer. At one point the beaver tells Walter he can never go back, which would be funny, coming from a puppet and all, if it didn’t represent a kind of psychological death knell for Walter. Even for viewers who refuse to empathize with a character portrayed by the likes of Gibson, it’s hard not to credit Foster for persuasively portraying a wife who’s horrified and saddened by her husband’s decline into lunacy.
Foster, who directed the film, is clearly aiming for laughs, but she’s also dead serious. Ultimately the comedy and gravity are too much at odds: Comedy compromises the solemnity and solemnity compromises the comedy. Sincere as “The Beaver” feels, it caves from an overly ambitious emotional scope.