The Beaver (starring Mel Gibson)
Much has been made of THE BEAVER, with attention focusing on Mel Gibson’s off the screen antics to the cockney accent he used to voice the puppet. But what audiences will find out about THE BEAVER is that this is a character study of a man that has given up hope and is struggling to get past his depression and regain the family that he lost. Despite the seemingly silly premise, this isn’t Jeff Dunham telling jokes for two hours, this is actually a very serious, heartfelt drama that is depressing, motivating and captivating all at the same time.
There’s a small place in everyone that is depressed. We all have various ways of dealing with the depression, but for some people, the depression is so severe it strangles you. Anyone that has a family member or knows someone that has fallen into a depressed state knows that it’s a serious illness that has torn families apart and destroyed lives. Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is depressed and like most people suffering from depression, he has lost hope, which has led to him losing his family and interest in his company. While throwing away trash at a local liquor store dumpster, he finds a puppet. In a drunken stupor, the puppet takes on a life of its own and calls itself “The Beaver”. Amazingly, this sad, beaten down man with a puppet is someone that virtually everyone can relate to.
Mel Gibson is not a ventriloquist, nor does director Jodie Foster ever attempt to hide the fact that the cockney accent of The Beaver is actually coming from Walter’s mouth. The point is not to have The Beaver tell a bunch of dumb jokes, but to show the physical manifestation of all of Walter’s depression. Walter doesn’t know how to live in the real world, but The Beaver does. So Walter hides behind the puppet and uses it as the crutch he needs to rejoin the world and regain his company’s success and, most importantly, his family.
The Beaver is its own character and while all of the characters in the film have an impressive arc, none are more impressive than The Beaver’s. At first, it’s fun and cute to watch the little beaver puppet talk in a cockney accent and mimic the mannerisms and reactions of Walter. But soon The Beaver takes on a personality of his own and what once served as a crutch for Walter was eventually the very thing that kept him down. Coming to a head in a surprisingly moving monologue while Walter was making an appearance on the today show, Walter realizes that he doesn’t need a puppet, he needs his family and his happiness is his responsibility and no one else’s. These are deep themes that are hard to convey when your lead actor has his hand up a puppet, but the brilliance and talent of Mel Gibson makes it completely believable. The audience never once questions the connection between Walter and The Beaver and that had everything to do with Mel’s performance.
So far, I’ve only talked about Walter and The Beaver, because they were the most fascinating elements of the film. Unfortunately, we had an entire storyline with Walter’s son, Porter (Anton Yelchin) and the girl he likes, Norah (Jennifer Lawrence). Porter is fighting his own demons as he becomes obsessed with trying to not end up like his dad, but his storyline was almost too deep. Porter needed to be a supporting character and another issue that Walter had to overcome and instead, he became a separate storyline that took away from what was going on with Walter. We even had a subplot with Norah coming to terms with her dead brother and at that point, the film got away from itself. Walter was a deep enough character with flaws and issues that were more than enough to carry this film and it would have been better to keep the focus on Walter.
Despite the incredibly sad story of a man dealing with his depression by funneling it into a puppet, the saddest part of THE BEAVER is the fact that Mel Gibson’s leaked tapes have basically prevented this film from receiving the critical and commercial success it so deserves. In a career filled with great characters, Walter is probably the deepest and most troubled of all of them. THE BEAVER deserves more attention than what it’s received and it just might be the best film of the summer that no one will see.