movie review: The Beaver

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
May 6, 2011 4:30 AM
7 Comments
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I didn’t want to read a word about The Beaver before seeing it, and I’m glad I went in “cold.” It’s a purposefully odd little film about mental illness and a broken family, made with care and obvious passion by Jodie Foster from a screenplay by Kyle Killen. There entire cast is good, but the centerpiece is a potent performance by Mel Gibson.

Some people (myself included) were uncomfortable about Gibson’s screen return in 2010’s Edge of Darkness, following a series of misadventures and offensive outbursts. While he did a good job, this film offers something altogether different. Instead of having to forget the real Gibson and buy into the character he’s playing, The Beaver casts him as a depressed husband and father who goes a bit nuts and tries to redeem himself. What can one say to that? It seems like a perfect fit.

I know I shouldn’t allow my feelings about a performer in “real life” to affect my view of him or her on film, but that’s like a judge telling—

—a jury to ignore damning evidence they’ve already heard. Gibson has always excelled at playing men on the edge—apparently for good reason—and this part takes that to an extreme, a place he’s perfectly willing to go.

The story, about a man drowning in depression who finds an unlikely path to redemption through the use of a hand puppet, certainly requires a leap of faith on the part of the audience. I was willing to make that leap, and if the story doesn’t stay perfectly on track, I’m forgiving of it because it’s so intriguing and provocative.

Foster gives a fine performance, as always, in an exceedingly difficult role as Gibson’s wife, who wants to forgive him but can’t deal with the beaver puppet. Anton Yelchin is also quite good as the couple’s older son who fears that he’s inherited all his father’s worst traits. And Jennifer Lawrence is effective as the high school valedictorian who reaches out to Yelchin for help with her graduation speech.

The Beaver doesn’t pretend to have easy answers about mental health or dysfunctional families, but it has empathy for all of its characters and, in an age of glibness, that’s admirable, and welcome.

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7 Comments

  • Pete | May 16, 2011 9:16 AMReply

    Personally, I find taking a hand puppet and making it into a comedy, and drama, about "mental illness" is beyond belief and funny as in funny for the sake of funny but not for the sake of portraying mental illness or saying something meaningful about it.

  • Greg | May 16, 2011 6:25 AMReply

    this s not "a stretch" as a poster said. I saw this actually hapopen at a vintage movie convention I attended a few months ago. There was a 40-ish woman, alone, sitting in the back of the theater (viewing room at a large hotel) with a large handpuupet on her left hand & was "working" it continuesly. But she didnt say anything out loud. Also, some of her body movements were erratic & it was abvious she had some level of Autism.

  • Jeffrey | May 13, 2011 6:19 AMReply

    Maltin has criticized many films for "running out of steam", "losing momentum" , "not holding up", etc.

    But he didn't have that problem with this film???????

  • Sweetheart | May 12, 2011 1:24 AMReply

    An excellent movie on all counts.
    Darrign work and daring unusual acting.

  • mark | May 10, 2011 4:42 AMReply

    The theme song for "The Beaver" will be The Rolling Stones' "Have You Scene Your Mother Baby,
    Standing In The Shadow"....Why? Because prophecy
    is fulfilled when an obscure backgound actor makes his film
    debut in the shodow of the graduation scene.

  • FM | May 7, 2011 10:13 AMReply

    If people simply did not follow the personal lives of these actors, it would never be an issue.

  • Jason | May 6, 2011 5:22 AMReply

    I liked Edge of Darkness despite my opinions of Mel Gibson. I'm glad 'The Beaver' is just as good and seems to take a few risks that some people wont respond to. I look forward to seeing it.

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