More Than Mel, Less Than Perfect, by Jack Fleischer
It’s one of those movies that’s getting attention for the wrong reasons. Of course for those of you who care about Mel Gibson (or the few who dislike Jodie Foster), I can say flat out that this film will not change your opinions of anyone. It’s a good movie, entertaining story, well acted, etc. – but it’s not so spectacular that anyone’s feeling about anyone will change. I can say very comfortably that this movie is … just fine.
Gibson plays Walter Black, a man so wrapped in his own depression that he simply cannot snap out of it. His family, and company, suffers as a result and eventually his wife, played by director Jodie Foster, can’t take it any more, so she kicks him out. After an evening of drunken self-pity, a part of him decides that he must “blow his life up” – and that’s when a cockney (Aussie?) spouting hand puppet enters the picture. It’s a drama, with moments of light comedy, that’s not really for the whole family.
Made from a script that was on The Black List, The Beaver comes across as a good story, supported by good acting. I’m not totally sure that I buy into the disturbing aspects of the climax, but I’m willing to overlook my doubts on the back of Mel Gibson’s performance. No matter what he may be doing in his personal life, the man has charisma on screen. He pulls one or two “Riggsian” moments of over-the-top insanity, but generally I’d say that he manages to keep things in the box of believability.
Foster also does a great job of playing the woman who wants to support Walter, but is also concerned for the stability of her family. Her performance maintains steady warmth that believably acts as the glue for this family. Also turning in a good performance is Anton Yelchin playing Black’s eldest son who is trying to differentiate himself from his father as much as possible.
The movie suffers from a few odd jumps in tone, the highlight of which was an edit that forced an odd belt of laughter immediately following the film’s most dramatic moment. At times it was hard to tell what reaction director Foster was trying to elicit, but perhaps that confusion is inherent in a film about a depressed businessman who uses a beaver puppet as his spokesperson.
As I watched The Beaver I couldn’t help but think of Lars and the Real Girl, another film about mental salvation through object personification. These films share mostly superficial and tangential similarities, but I think Lars is ultimately more successful in maintaining a consistency of message and tone.
All in all, this movie is just fine. It has humor, and hope, and it features a number of likable actors (even Mel) in likable roles. It’s not a movie for kids or Mel Gibson haters, but it does manage to convey a message of hope at the end. I’d recommend this one to Mr. Gibson at the very least.