It has now been one full week since I have seen Jodie Foster’s latest directorial effort, The Beaver, and it is a real testament to the film that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I don’t really mean that in a bad way. Wait. Maybe I kind of mean it in a bad way. The Beaver is pretty terrible in many respects but in others it is so incredibly awesome that one has to respect that the film was ever even made at all. I guess the best thing that could be said is that the film is incredibly original and unlike anything ever seen on screen. For some audience members this may be enough to give it a pass, while others might simply scratch their heads and wonder just what the heck it was they watched.
Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a man thoroughly going through a crisis. His marriage to roller-coaster designer Meridith (Foster) is at the point where he has finally been kicked out of the house. His youngest son (Riley Thomas Stewart) is so shy he is nearly mute. His eldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin, essentially playing an emo variation on his role in Charlie Bartlett), is running a profitable paper writing service for other students, in an effort to save money for a road trip where he plans to let go all of the things he detests about his father (which he manifests by smashing his head into the wall repeatedly as hard as humanly possible and by keeping a wall full of post-its where he writes down everything he hates about Walter). Add to this a failing toy business and burgeoning alcoholism, and you have a portrait of a man at the end of his rope.
One night while trying to clear room in his car trunk for more liquor bottles, Walter finds a hand puppet of a beaver. After getting drunk in a hotel room while watching Kung Fu, two botched suicide attempts, and getting hit on the head with a television set, Walter awakens talking like Ray Winstone and using the puppet to do all of his talking for him. The puppet leads to a major creative awakening in the once dormant Walter. Walter is still socially awkward and the puppet doesn’t help, but at least he has reconnected with his wife and his youngest son, and is starting to turn his business around (with a toy that no parent in this day and age would ever let their child near, but just go with it). Porter, however, is still having none of it and is distracted by his puppy dog crush on the class valedictorian (recent Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence) who has hired him to write her graduation speech.
It is hard to say where to begin with this one. The Beaver isn’t a film that so much lends itself to a review as it is a film that should have books and thesis papers written about it. For better or worse, The Beaver is a film that will probably be spoken of in hushed tones and will be analyzed endlessly from any number of perspectives. It is the perfect example of a film that is expertly acted and directed (despite Foster’s proclivities for obvious symbolism that is sometimes quite grating) by people who have fully committed to a project with all their hearts. On the other hand, the hand with the giant beaver puppet on it, the film is just flat out insane and patently ludicrous. Kyle Killen’s script feels like a rejected Hal Hartley vehicle for the American Beauty generation. That last sentence is to be read with just the amount of skepticism as it sounds in your head.