Title: Buff Review Show: Well I’ll Be Dammed (additional Beaver puns removed)
At time of writing, it has been approximately fifteen minutes since the end of The Beaver, starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster, whom also made her directorial debut in this film. I needed to get this review written up nice and sharpish, so without further ado, here is the review for one of the oddest, yet most heart-warming, pieces of cinema I’ve seen this year.
Well we might as well get the plot synopsis out of the way with first, as any of you who’ve not seen anything about this film prior to it’s release last Friday, will and are fully entitled to be slightly confused by the trailer and the film’s concept. In fact, if you take out the titular rodent in question (second largest rodent after the capybara no less, thank you Wikipedia for that nugget of information), the film would play out as a very ordinary, incredibly familiar film that is simply acted better than your average 2.4 children destruction of a family affair.
Mel Gibson is Walter Browne, CEO of a failing toy company, the reigns of which were given to him by his dead father in place of anyone with any sort of competency. Walter has lost his way in life, and his already strained relationship with his wife Meredith, played by Foster, as well as a distanced connection with his two sons, Porter and Henry. Walter has severely lost his way in life, and is dealing with severe depression, which leads to a handful of failed suicide attempts within the first few minutes of the film (nothing too graphic, it was almost Laurel and Hardy in style). Prior to the failed attempt on his own life, Walter is dumping some of his personal belongings from the banged up car he is rattling around in, making room for necessities such as whiskey, scotch, bourbon, vodka and so forth. In the dumpster he comes across a (surprisingly clean looking) beaver hand puppet.
Flash-forward to post-shower-rail-related-comedy-moment, and Walter wakes up with the hand puppet attached to his hand (naturally), and finds it talking to him, or finds himself talking to himself through it, or, whatever, complete with a cockney-mockney accent. Actually, I would go as far as to say that the accent wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Eastenders, and gives Shane Richie a run for his money in terms of cheeky chappiness, but with a darker side. Think Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, if every so often Bert would stop humming a tune while sweeping the chimneys and mutter something under his breath, before booting a nearby pigeon off the rooftop and onto unsuspecting children down below.
With the Beaver on-hand (someone find me a snare drum and a cymbal) Walter turns his life around, restoring himself in the eyes of his wife, co-workers and youngest son. Not so much with the eldest son, but he is too busy in a completely different film altogether which only tangentially links to the Mel Gibson side of the movie by proxy of being on the screen at the same time. It isn’t as jarring by the end of the film, and of course the message the film is trying to get across emanates throughout every character, major or minor, but it was almost a depressive teen movie being shown during a depressive adult movie. I guess I have to look at it as the father living through the Beaver, and his son living through other people (he does their homework and assignments and whatnot for good money.
The introduction of the Beaver to Walter’s family is, naturally, tentative at first, but they believe it is part of a psychological process prescribed by a doctor. Why they seem to believe this is beyond me, it’d be like prescribing daily doses of Bert and Ernie to combat the flu. What I fail to believe though is that none of his employees find it odd, and are all very accepting of their CEO existing through what is essentially a brown oven mitt with eyes and teeth. I tried to suspend my belief as best as possible, but in the end I just couldn’t accept that EVERYONE was okay with this, and that no one sent for the men in white coats and the biggest syringe of Valium (or animal tranquilizers) they could carry. I had the same problem with Foster’s character, it seemed she couldn’t grasp exactly what she had to do to try and help his husband through this. There is a scene about halfway through where Meredith and Walter are on an anniversary meal, and the entire film just flips on itself!
The second half of the film soon loses a lot of the light-heartedness that was present early on, and on a pivot goes from light to sinister. Make no mistake: this is a film about depression. This is not a look at family life in general, or the use of puppetry in the media, or a teenager boy-meets-girl flick. The last thirty minutes of The Beaver makes this fact very clear, and manages to overshadow any doubts and issues I had with the earlier parts of the film. Viewing Walter’s rapid decent and escalation through the side effects of depression, and the effect this has on his family and his health in general, was truly powerful and a real shock to me. The scores and plaudits this film has received have ridden, and indeed been amplified, by that third act.
With stunning performances from a varied cast, in age and in experience, ‘The Beaver’ is a real treat, but is a niche film for an incredibly niche market. Very few people will end up seeing this in cinemas, which is a shame, but I hope that this review will convince a few more of you to go and check it out. With it’s unique view on the topic of depression, and great blend of light comedy and dark, thought-provoking drama, this comes with a huge recommendation from me. It’s just such a shame it is being lost amongst Thor, Pirates and the huge selection of other big blockbusters.