What to do when you’re hopelessly depressed? In the new Jodie Foster-helmed dramedy The Beaver, Walter Black tries self-help books, therapy, drum circles, medication, and self-medication, but nothing works until he hits bottom and embraces the new personality a hand puppet affords him.
That Walter is played by that king of public meltdowns Mel Gibson unavoidably colors The Beaver. Edge of Darkness is practically Gibson’s middle name (also the title of his return to acting last year), established on screen with roles as varied as the Lethal Weapon franchise’s Martin Riggs and the title role in Hamlet. In The Beaver, a convincing Gibson again stares deeply into the abyss. The question is whether—after his public disgrace—anyone will want to go there with him.
Walter has nearly driven his father’s toy company out of business, he’s alienated his family to the brink of separation, and he nearly ends it all during a hotel-room bender. But Walter makes a comeback with his found furry friend, a beaver that he introduces to his wife Meredith (Foster) as “a prescription puppet.” The beaver inexplicably speaks in a Cockney accent, and quickly becomes a hit with the Blacks’ seven-year-old son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart).
Henry’s older brother Porter (Anton Yelchin) and Meredith don’t come around quite so quickly, but the Beaver ultimately helps Walter to ingratiate himself both at home and at work. At the toy company, he rediscovers his creativity by letting the beaver operate outside of the shadow of Walter’s father, who committed suicide. The pressure to live up to—and, more often, avoid—a father’s legacy haunts both Walter and Porter, a ne’er-do-well whose principal goal in life is to avoid becoming Walter.
Though the hook is a particularly wacky Dissociative Identity Disorder, The Beaver proves to be not very interested in its black comedy. Rather, it’s a drama of depression, with the plain-spoken message “You do not have to be alone” in facing life’s loss and hurt and brokenness. It’s a message the audience will hope that Walter and Porter—as well as Porter’s new friend and love interest Norah (Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone)—will hear before picture’s end. That is, if audiences can be convinced to feel sympathy for a man played by Mel Gibson.
In Foster’s hands, The Beaver turns out to be a bit of a head-scratcher: weird and disturbing, but with elements of cuteness and romance; darkly funny but comedically gun shy; admirably serious-minded in treating the subject of depression, in spite of the Cockney beaver on Gibson’s arm. One wishes The Beaver’s bets didn’t feel quite so hedged, but as is, it’s a quirky and diverting domestic drama. After all, the producers can cross their fingers that what the beaver says is true: “People seem to love a train wreck when it’s not happening to them.”
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]
The Beaver comes to blu-ray in a solid special edition from Summit Entertainment. The spanking-new image gets an accordingly spotless transfer distinguished by its depth. Hues are subdued but true, contrast is well calibrated, and black level is deep. Shadow detail suffers in low-light scenes that succumb a bit to crush, but otherwise this is an impressive hi-def picture, with creditable detail and texture. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio surround mix is entirely up to the task of recreating the theatrical experience, putting most of the action front and center where it belongs to support this dialogue-driven dramedy. Music has a good fullness to it, and when sound effects and general ambience are employed, the soundfield achieves a subtle immersion.
The primary bonus feature is an audio commentary with Jodie Foster. Foster offers both actorly insights into character and performance and directorial details of concept, design, production and themes. There are regular (but short) gaps in the track; nevertheless, there's enough here for Foster fans to hang on her every whip-smart word.
The behind-the-scenes featurette "Everything is Going To Be OK" (12:06, HD) crams in plenty of set footage, as well as interview clips of Foster, Mel Gibson, Jennifer Lawrence, Anton Yelchin, Cherry Jones and producer Steve Golin.
Two "Deleted Scenes" (4:52, HD)—"Puppet Pull" and "Role Play"—come with optional commentary.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer