Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Beaver

Missing the Big Man

One of the best actresses of her generation, Jodie Foster makes that rare return to the director's chair to helm The Beaver, which had actually gained more traction for its lead actor Mel Gibson having self destructed the last several months in what has been painted as a disastrous personal life with drunken rants and threats turned into physical violence. There's something of a cruel irony in all of this, since Mel's character in The Beaver is a manic depressive, who created this imaginary, titular character out of a puppet to take over the thought and motor functions of his life, in an effort to try and be normal, only for this make belief to slowly consume him.

Written by Kyle Killen, The Beaver has two main narrative threads running in the story that revolves around the Black family, where little kid Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) has to endure a horrid, bullied time in school that got glossed over soon enough, mom Meredith (Jodie Foster herself) having to finally find the strength to boot husband Walter (Mel Gibson) out of the house before his blasé negativity permeates to everyone around him, and oldest kid Porter (Anton Yelchin) who coasts through his life being extremely embarrassed with his estranged father, as well as making a covert reputation for himself in school as the go-to person for essay assignments to be done for a fee, written so well since they're passed off convincingly as someone else's own work, which would be what I felt as someone who is extremely sensitive, expressive and emphatic.

Contrast this of course with the boorish, meaningless life that Walter led, until an accident filled night awoken him to the prospect of a self-help therapy of sorts, firmly sticking his left hand into a beaver puppet, and literally speaking through it, adopting an Aussie accent as well. Mel as Walter disappears, and in comes The Beaver for some dark comedy in an attempt to turn his life around for the better, with family and the employees in his toy company. Who would have thought Mel Gibson's absence from the silver screen actually didn't blunt his performance, being th consummate actor that he's known for, and if one were to overlook his personal shenanigans, you will see a performance worthy from the Oscar winner. Alas the negative publicity overshadowed his professionalism here, and it's most unfortunate that his role here will be largely overlooked.

Part of the fun is of course how The Beaver translates his message to other characters, as well as the audience, in a very dark, schizophrenic fashion, that you will think the crafted session would actually help Mel Gibson himself should he put himself into one of these speak out situations. Mel Gibson becomes the one man tour de force in his narrative arc, aptly supported by Jodie Foster herself as Walter's wife who holds on to memories of times with her husband that were more positive, and something that she misses and wants back.

The other arc is equally as engaging, dealing with Porter's growing infatuation with Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), the graduating valedictorian who had to engage his services since she is having trouble coming out with a memorable speech during the graduation ceremony. A rare brains and beauty combo, it is almost natural that sparks fly, and with Porter's constant probing into her character allows for the peek into the lives of others, and a realization that everyone carries their own personal baggage, that all may only seem well on the surface, with painful memories and experiences getting hidden away into deep recesses. It's a classic, inevitable love story, and for a parallel to run between father and son especially since the latter tries really hard to deviate from the innate ways that his genes carry and in some ways, some things can't deviate too much, try as you may.

The box office response of this film got unnecessarily hurt, and hurt bad, and it's quite unfair to the film because its layers had so much going for it, that I will unabashedly claim that I have enjoyed it thoroughly and would recommend it as a contender as one of the best this year has to offer so far. An excellent ensemble cast, a solid story and confident direction from Foster makes this a winner, so don't you allow the bad press to affect your decision to want to watch this film, which could probably be Mel Gibson's last paid gig in Tinseltown.

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