Do you believe that when Al Jolson opened his mouth in The Jazz Singer or Orson Welles changed cinema forever that they envisaged that in 2011 we would see a cockney beaver on the hand of Mel Gibson call Jodie Foster a ‘dirty little tart’ after sex? The curious case of The Beaver then. A huge flop in America (it’s only just managed to scrape past the $1m mark), it’s arrived on our shores. But what actually is it?
Whilst it may be expected to be a bawdy comedy, the tag couldn’t be further from the truth. Gibson plays Walter Black, a severely depressed President of a failing toy company, who attempts suicide after being ousted from his home by his wife, Jodie Foster (also directing). He stumbles across a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster, and takes to wearing it, and indeed speaking through it like he’s channelling Ray Winstone, for therapeutic measures. He feels that by acting through the puppet, he is distancing himself from his negative energy- but does this reliance help or hinder him?
If nothing else, Gibson gives a magnificent performance. All in his eyes, he looks as weary and disillusioned as his character is meant to be (an example of life mirroring art?) even if his accent veers a bit towards his Australian roots a few times, and the document of his relationship with his children and their different attitudes towards him is quite intriguing. Anton Yelchin portrays his eldest Porter, but not especially well, and his head banging against a wall is bewildering, as is the whirlwind romance he ‘enjoys’ with chief cheerleader/valedictorian/GRAFFITI ARTIST Jennifer Lawrence.
No, the main issue is the titular puppet. Being very much a Catch-22 situation, it’s the main focus and so arguably the main draw (although the statistics prove this wrong), but it’s an utterly ridiculous plot device and there is no way in dressing up the fact that when Gibson is fighting his own arm, it borders on farce. Had there been another instrument other than a hand puppet, the film could have been a decent study into the extreme troubles a man can feel and the depths they can plummet to for a myriad of reasons. Instead, what we receive is what feels like an half hour episode of a Nickelodeon show stretched out and it ultimately cheapens the experience, massively.
Whilst Foster undeniably knows her way behind a camera and the movie is nicely filmed, in the end its main star is its hindrance and that is not Mel Gibson. Rather than eliciting feelings of sympathy and tragedy, the audience (if there will be one) is destined to leave speechless and baffled and you’re hard pressed to find a more ridiculous plot device in a summer which includes another Transformers sequel. It’s not a total failure by any stretch of the imagination, and many of the elements without the puppet work well yet the fact remains that the puppet is there. It shouldn’t be, but it is.