Let’s forget about Mel Gibson the person for a minute: Oksana, anti-Semitism, the personal church, the crazy father. Well. wait, remember the crazy father. In “The Beaver,” directed by Jodie Foster, the only person on the planet who defends Gibson’s last few horrible years, Mel plays a suicidal father of two. This is not a comedy.
Mel’s Walter Black is determined to kill or hurt himself with no regard for his family. When his wife finally kicks him out, Walter discovers a hand puppet beaver in a trash bin, puts it on his left hand, and start speaking through it in a Cockney accent. For no reason. Walter can now only communicate through the Beaver. At some point he even goes on the “Today” show with Matt Lauer wearing the puppet and speaking this way. “The Beaver” is a downer that goes dangerously too far down to ever come up. Mel Gibson seems more like the actual man we’ve seen in tabloids than the old Three Stooges Mel of “Lethal Weapon.”
Walter is desperate, and Mel conveys that pretty accurately. He’s strung out on depression. Instead of seeking help or drugs, he depends on the Beaver. His wife goes along with this, to some extent. When she realizes the fullness of his mental incapacity, it’s too late. There is self-mutilation. If you didn’t like “127 Hours,” then won’t be digging this. But in “The Beaver,” the violence also marks the jumping of the shark, when this barely coherent film finally tips over.
Gibson strongly delivers the depression. Foster directs herself as a clueless, sort of pinched wife who’s had enough already and doesn’t know what to do next. Who’s good? Anton Yelchin as their teen son, and Jennifer Lawrence as his girlfriend. They’re so attractive and well spoken that they’re a relief from the tedium of Walter’s story. The look of the film–kind of flat, no depth– doesn’t help. Who is “The Beaver” for? Is this Mel’s way of seeking absolution? The subplot is that his son (Yelchin) hates him and Walter hated his own father (who may have committed suicide). Remember Mel’s horrible real father, Hutton Gibson, the Holocaust denier? There’s a lot of resonance there from fiction to reality.
On a personal note, I don’t care if Mel Gibson is good or bad in a movie anymore. I don’t want to see him or hear about him. He’s a bad guy who’s said and done rotten things. Why reward him with money at the box office? Is his performance in “The Beaver” such a big deal? Not really. It’s no daring to act depressed. For Jodie Foster, “The Beaver” shows that, as with her 20 year old “Little Man Tate,” she has an eye. I just wish it fell on more important things.
PS The actual Beaver puppet is one of the ugliest stuffed animals you’ve ever seen.