Jodie Foster directs and co-stars in The Beaver, a black comedy that’s solid but never too profound.
Mel Gibson plays Walter Black, CEO of a toy company who is currently suffering from almost terminal depression. When his long-suffering wife Meredith (Foster) finally kicks him out of the family home, in an alcohol-fuelled stupor he puts on a beaver hand puppet and suddenly gets a new lease on life. Once the beaver’s in control, Walter finds he has the ability to become a good parent, husband and CEO. Everyone else, however, is more than a little disturbed. A secondary plot exists in the form of Walter’s son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), and his efforts to distance himself from his father.
The Beaver aims to walk a fine line, and whilst it isn’t a runaway success, it isn’t a failure either. Equal parts black comedy and a study of mental illness, the film often strikes the perfect balance, so that we, the audience, find ourselves laughing uncomfortably. The performances are all excellent. Gibson is at the top of his game here (even rivalling his dramatic turn from Signs), and the seemingly chameleonic Anton Yelchin is almost unrecognisable from his performances in Star Trek and Terminator: Salvation. Jennifer Lawrence plays Porter’s love interest, Nora, and as can now be expected, is as radiant as ever. After Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class and now this, it’s hard to imagine that Lawrence could ever be less than brilliant. Norah and Porter’s subplot never truly ties in with the themes discussed in the central narrative, but is a good enough story on its own.
Overall, The Beaver is a strong dramatic feature that takes some risks but never really rocks the boat too much. That it manages to be a successful US black comedy is no mean feat when you realise how few examples there are of these in Hollywood. Then again, in 1984 Jodie Foster starred in what has to be one of the greatest black comedies of all time, The Hotel New Hampshire, so maybe starring in a film of that nature in her formative years went some way towards the successes of this film.
As an aside, you may know that this film’s been ‘in the can’ for at least a year now, initially having a release date of 2010. It’s been generally assumed that Mr Gibson’s public, um, fall from grace has meant that distributors were in a holding pattern. Who knows, maybe this means we’ll even see the Red Dawn remake now, for which filming began in September 2009. Otherwise it seems that fear about Communism is even less cool in Hollywood right now than Mr Gibson’s extracurricular activities.Rating: