'The Beaver' isn't what you think it is

RIOT OF JOY - Ramon De Veyra () - August 14, 2011 - 12:00am

Bad timing. It’s almost impossible to recover from a really severe case of it.

Take the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Jodie Foster’s film The Beaver. Filmed two years ago, it had a couple of interesting features, including the fact that Jodie Foster was on the director’s chair.

Only her third film, it was the first she has directed in 15 years.

The script had a good reputation in Hollywood, topping The Black List, a survey among industry professionals that listed the best unproduced screenplays.

It had a great cast, including Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation), Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class, Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone last year, and starring in the coming Hunger Games movies), plus Foster and Mel Gibson themselves.

Foster has enjoyed an off-screen friendship and onscreen chemistry with Gibson ever since they starred together in Richard Donner’s Maverick, a box-office hit in the mid-‘90s that made over $100 million.

For Gibson it was an opportunity to stretch his dramatic acting chops, and a way to help rehabilitate his image after being arrested for drunk driving in ’06, where he let loose some anti-Semitic and sexist remarks.

Then the bad timing drops.

Jodie Foster in this shot is both acting and directing. Amazing.

Recordings of Gibson drunkenly threatening/verbally abusing his ex-girlfriend leaked online in July 2010, where Gibson became one of the most hated personalities on the Internet, thanks to a tirade that appeared racist, sexist, almost pathological.

The movie’s release was put on indefinite hold. For a while, even screenwriter Kyle Killen wasn’t sure if the movie would see theaters.

It finally came out this year in a few major cities in the US, and is now playing in Ayala Cinemas.

The question on some people’s minds is, regardless of whether Gibson is the demon spawn some people claim him to be, does patronizing his latest movie become a sign of support for lewd behavior?

Should his punishment extend, as some civil groups called for, to a complete boycott of all projects he’s involved in?

But what if those projects are good?

And what of the work of the other people involved? Are they merely paying the price for someone else’s behavior, the equivalent of collateral damage?

You probably can’t cancel out the scandal from your mind while watching The Beaver, but if you allow that to be your reason for skipping the film it would be a shame, because you’d be missing what’s actually a pretty interesting film.

Gibson plays a clinically depressed man whose lethargy and depression have destroyed his work and home life, until his wife (Foster) finally kicks him out. Not wanting to lose them, he subconsciously comes up with the coping mechanism of an alternate personality, personified by a hand puppet he finds in the garbage.

Such a premise for a Hollywood film brings to mind comedy highjinks with people looking at him like he’s crazy, but the charming puppet later teaches them an important lesson about the value of family and life in general.

The Beaver stars this hand puppet found in the garbage. It is operated by Mel Gibson.

Not so. Well, there’s the former, but not the latter. The Beaver is actually a depiction of the debilitating effects of clinical depression that is willing to be more serious and darker than you’d expect before showing any light at the end of the tunnel.

Oh, there are other bits too, like Gibson’s son (Anton Yelchin) and his attraction to the school valedictorian (Jennifer Lawrence).

Their romance/not romance can occasionally be a bit cloying, but when the actors are this good it seems ungrateful to nitpick.

There’s Gibson’s job as head of a toy company, which suffers from an unrealistic portrayal of the toy industry.

Its strengths are in its direction and performances. Foster’s a confident director and knows what she wants from her actors, but she’s also good at scenes that ratchet up tension, like a suicide attempt and a fight scene. She should direct a thriller someday, actually.

Gibson’s performance should also be commended, especially for his conviction when playing The Beaver, whose accent is a cross between Michael Caine and Ray Winstone.

The movie may have come out under a black cloud, but Foster and company still have produced something worth watching.

One wonders how it would have fared without such odds being stacked against it.

The Beaver is a PG-13 Ayala Cinemas exclusive, so check the nearest one for screening schedules.

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