Mel Gibson playing a depressed middle-aged ‘success story’ (Walter Black – geddit?) who has lost his mojo and is seeking to rediscover himself – now there’s an astute bit o casting! As it turns out, Mel doesn’t rise to the performance heights that might have been expected of him in this role, but he’s OK. Ditto Jodi Foster, who is a bit play-by-numbers as his bemused and beleaguered wife, Meredith (Foster also directed the movie – it might have been prudent to have cast someone else as her character). Riley Thomas Stewart is cute and credible as their young son, Henry. Anton Yelchin as Porter, their older son, does teen angst and paternal resentment quite well. And Jennifer Lawrence brings an air of mystique to her secondary character Norah, Porter’s talented but troubled closet graffiti artist love interest.
Nothing much wrong with the performances, then. Or the direction or general crafting of the film. But there is a fatal flaw: the premise from which the movie takes its title. See, ‘the beaver’ is a hand puppet Walter Black turns to as his hope of salvation after a failed suicide bid, and from the moment he puts this thing on his hand, it’s there to stay. That in itself is irritating, but worse is Walter’s insistence that the beaver become his intermediary: no longer will he answer as Walter, preferring to speak through the beaver – in a Michael Caine type voice and accent (why??). His rationale is that the beaver gives him some distance on the world he so struggles to deal with as Walter. Where Walter is unable to rise above his despondency and state of depression about his past and present (which is never explained), the beaver is full of spirit, humour and creative energy.
Is there a psychological case study from which this stuff derives, perhaps? Some deviant brand of dissociative personality disorder? Possibly, but I doubt it, and regardless it doesn’t ring true here. It’s just too silly. You imagine a screenwriter coming up with the idea, getting attached to it without really knowing why (like Walter to his bloody puppet), and doggedly working it into a script no matter what. Indeed, the writing is competent enough. But the premise stinks and that’s that. Doesn’t matter how shiny the apple is if it’s rotten at the core.
There’s a shocking – and ludicrous – end to this beaver nonsense, and from there we end up on a slippery slide to a sentimental Hollywood conclusion, in which all the loose ends are tied up oh so neatly. This is acceptable sometimes. This is not one of those times. Here we have craft drawing attention to itself through its artifice, rather than a self-propelled narrative ending on a note of credible inevitability. Add to this the crappy premise, and some particularly cliched and obvious symbolism right at the deathknock, and you’re left feeling way less than satisfied.
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