There are very few Hollywood big name actors whose latest movie I’d bother to look out for. Mel Gibson, despite his own personal troubles of late, is one star who consistently proves that he can actually act and so is well worth watching. He does light comedy very well and got the laughs (according to my other half) in ‘What Women Want’. He persuaded us that he was Scotland’s other national hero, William Wallace, in ‘Braveheart’ – albeit with a slight Aussie accent in places. He even went a bit more arty as a director with ‘Apocalypto’ and gave us a very effective, subtitle reliant movie.
In his latest film ‘The Beaver’ (not as rude as it sounds) – out now on American Region A locked Blu-ray – he sticks his hand up a glove puppet’s backside and his character goes to work. You don’t believe it? No, neither did I! Obviously, it had to be a comedy with a premise like that. Imagine my surprise to discover that it was a film about depression. If I’d known in advance, I’d have avoided it like the plague – and missed a very good film indeed.
Walter Black is a man suffering from depression. Nothing is going right for him. His Toy company is failing and he’s become withdrawn from his relationship with his family. His eldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), hates him and his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) eventually can take no more, so kicks him out of the family home. Cheery stuff, eh? Things are looking pretty grim until he takes some rubbish to a dumpster (that’s American for a big skip) and liberates a beaver glove puppet. Now, here’s the leap of faith required by the audience. You have to believe that the beaver talks to him in a cockney accent, not unlike Ray Winstone (although it was actually Mr Gibson who provided the voice). Hey, it worked for Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’ so why not here? So anyway, the puppet gives Walter a way of communicating with the world as an outlet for the more outgoing parts of his personality that have become so recessed due to depression – and you know what? The beaver is a lot more fun to be around than the old semi suicidal Walter. He presents people (including his family) with cards asking them to talk to the puppet and they seem to play along with him. The scene I had a real problem with was when he went into his office and did exactly the same. Now, call me old fashioned, but any Managing Director who did that would be forcibly restrained and given a trendy new jacket that does up at the back by a couple of nice young men in white coats. It’s a testament to Mel Gibson’s acting ability that I remained in my seat and continued to watch the film, even though my brain was shouting, “Oh, come on. You have got to be kidding.” In short, my disbelief was not completely suspended.
All the same, once you accept that this is how the story goes, it kind of wins you round. Naturally, things improve at the Toy Company as they launch a Beaver Construction kit which sells like hot cakes. He becomes interesting to his family again and even his wife agrees to a romantic dinner with him, but without the puppet present. Here is where the conflict arises. Does the recovering Walter have the strength to overcome the Beaver’s control of his life? Do we have an Ealing ‘Dead of Night’ type scenario here with the puppet totally taking over?
Rotating around the main story we have other orbital back stories of depression and how other people deal with them. Porter’s girlfriend, Nora (Jennifer Lawrence), is grieving the loss of her brother. Porter himself is struggling to deal with the loss of his girlfriend after he upsets her and Meredith is suffering the loss of her husband. Walter’s 5 year old son also thinks that he is becoming invisible as people ignore him. So we get to see how Walter’s depression affects them all.
Now this could be thoroughly wrist slashing stuff, but it’s not as it’s all handled so sensitively by director Jodie Foster. Anyone who can make an audience want to watch a movie that deals with this kind of subject matter in today’s miserable, recession hit times has real talent. We shouldn’t forget though, that without a good script by Kyle Killen, the movie would have been on a hiding to nothing. Ultimately it’s an uplifting film with some genuinely touching moments towards the end between father and son. The comedy element is not overdone. Getting the right balance here must have been very difficult in not allowing the story to become leaden yet at the same time avoid the feeling that the Chuckle Brothers had just strutted on to the stage all of a sudden. Dealing with matters that involve mental health issues are also very difficult as the audience needs to be able to empathise with the affected characters yet it would also be a mistake to allow them to feel that someone has their mucky fingers in among their heart strings.
Jodie Foster spins all her plates effortlessly and pulls off a very bold, brave film. There aren’t many who would take this kind of risk with their reputations as actor or director. It took a special kind of guts as well as a strong desire to do a very personal project of this nature.
‘The Beaver’ won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and it’s unlikely to appeal to the blockbuster bash, crash and beat ’em up brigade. However, if you’re looking for something that little bit different that requires a modicum of thought and if you don’t mind tiptoeing through an area that most people aren’t tough enough to face, then you’ll probably find ‘The Beaver’ a rewarding experience.
Our Review Ethos