The Beaver 

Here's one way up from the bottom

click to enlarge "Is that a beaver or are you just happy to see me?"
  • "Is that a beaver or are you just happy to see me?"

The Beaver

GRADE: C+

While his judgment, faith, sobriety and sanity remain dubious; Mel Gibson's talent has never been in doubt. That abundant skill is obvious in this mawkish yet oddly compelling drama, which finds Gibson playing an essentially decent man who has run out of ideas for making his life work. While it's usually pointless to read too much personal drama into an actor's script choices, The Beaver's contemplative, therapeutic and redemptive themes seem perfectly suited for the troubled star.

Gibson plays Walter Black, a middle-aged toy company exec in inexplicable freefall, with no bottom in sight to his hole of drink and depression. His long-suffering wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) has no other choice but to regretfully kick him out. One aborted hotel room suicide attempt later, and Walter awakes face to hand with a fuzzy puppet that speaks in a firm and comforting, but totally random cockney accent. Since Walter struggles to speak for himself, his furry little friend offers to become his mouthpiece, to the total confusion and dismay of his family and colleagues.

Slowly but surely, this lousy ventriloquist begins to reap benefits; he has a new found vigor at home and work, but will the real Walter get lost forever behind the confident rodent? Meanwhile, Walter's distraught oldest son (Anton Yelchin) has a vibrant business ghost-writing term papers, but is shocked when an ethereal blond beauty (Jennifer Lawrence) asks for his help crafting her valedictory address.

The Beaver is heavily laden with metaphorical trappings, not the least of which is the curious, bucktoothed hunk of felt clinging to Gibson's forearm. Is he supposed to be a crude men's room graffiti joke about the vessel of rebirth? The film never offers a satisfactory answer; but Gibson's total commitment to the role helps maintain our interest, even after we've determined none of this is remotely plausible.

Director Foster seems to be extending her old friend Gibson a career lifeline, though she did pick a rather curious project to mount a career comeback around. The Beaver is too serious, insightful, quirky and ultimately maudlin to attract the average filmgoer, who may be far less willing to forgive and forget a fallen hero than the people on screen.

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