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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.
. "The Beaver"

In "The Beaver" there's a line in which the husband asks his wife "Where do we start?" "We start with the good part," she replies. Although this exchange occurs during a part of the film that can't be discussed, it applies to the beginning of the film, as well.

The good part is when Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is nothing worse than the CEO of a toy company that has seen better days. Whether it's been losing business because of a bad economy (this is, after all, a 2011 release), or because Walter's been so depressed he isn't doing much to benefit the bottom line, the cause remains to be inferred. Probably both.

The depression is no temporary thing. He carries it home, to loving wife Meredith (Jodie Foster, who directs), and sons Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) and Porter (Anton Yelchin), the latter of whom is Walter's severest critic. But his demeanor of bad humor and detachment permeates the household like an infestation in the wood framing; until the family can't take it any more.

Taking a walk from his hotel room to the nearest liquor store one night, he notices a discarded beaver puppet in the dumpster on his return. He engages with it like he hasn't been able to with anything or anyone for ages. But before he realizes the therapeutic properties of the doll, he gets boozed up and tries suicide. On the second try, a sudden loud voice disrupts his balance and he falls into the balcony instead of out, as intended, and loses consciousness.

He awakens a new and different man. Hearing the puppet speak (in a Cockney accent) as though he's not hearing his own thoughts, Walter imbues the puppet the full sensibility of a valid individual -- one with his interests ever in mind. It's cookoo, of course, but the psychologists have a term or two for this sort of transference.

In any case, the new relationship allows Walter to finally open up a whole new avenue of communication. Little by little it improves his ability to relate as though the depression were gone. Of course, we sane ones see that the talking puppet is his substitute for a brick wall defense mechanism, the monkey wrench of which, however, is his dependence on a medium.

Whatever. He gives his loved ones and business associates hope that he may be able some day to transfer back to the Walter they once knew and to put the puppet back into the dumpster.

The DVD
SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • Audio Commentary with director Jodie Foster
  • Deleted Scenes
  • "Everything is going to be O.K." - Featurette on the making of The Beaver
  • Unfortunately, we can't quite make that move. The artificiality of the concept transfers to the departments of credibility and entertainment, both of which suffer. The effort to somehow end this on a positive note causes a final act telescoping that almost completely unbalances the shaky pretense on which it hovers.

    The production is all pro and the nature of the story does give Foster an opportunity to show more skill in her directing side than heretofore. Plus, she's always a great screen presence.

    A major subplot has elder son Porter playing the school brain and attracting cheerleader/valedictorian Norah (Jennifer Lawrence). Yelchin seems to love these super-intellectual characters and does them justice, as he does here. "The Beaver" is Lawrence's second role after she received the extraordinary attention for her performance in "Winter's Bone" that made her the pick for this hot-babe-with-accomplishments role.

    As for Gibson, while he may have agreed to the "outsider" character of this metaphorically dual role for his own therapeutic reasons, he didn't need to do "The Beaver" to convince us of the high level of talent he possesses where a camera is concerned. Front or behind, strange material or straight, scandal and tabloid headlines notwithstanding, he's still star quality. We see it through all his subterfuge of incoherency.

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                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  
    

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