Depression is a tricky subject for cinema, in that it takes the audience to dark places and is often not commercial. So – on the surface – the approach of Jodie Foster’s The Beaver is somewhat smart. When the main character – Walter Black (Mel Gibson) – is near suicidal, having him rediscover life through a hand puppet is not a bad starting point, as it can allow for fun to be made of a desperate situation. Alas, Foster – working from a script by Kyle Killen – never finds the humor in the situation that interesting. And even with Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence co-starring as people not going through depression as directly, even they get sucked into their own therapy sessions. Our review of The Beaver on Blu-ray after the jump.
Walter Black took over his father’s toy corporation and promptly drove it into the ground. His life is falling apart, and he doesn’t feel like his own man. He’s married to Meredith (Foster) and she designs roller coasters. They have two kids, Porter (Yelchin) – who makes money writing other people’s homework – and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), who’s the youngest so he mostly doesn’t have much to do. Walter moves out, and that makes Porter happy because he hates his dad, though he can’t help but notice how alike they are. When Walter goes to his new hotel room, he’s in the midst of such a depression he’s ready to kill himself, but before he can end his life he finds a beaver puppet in the trash, and after a failed suicide attempt the Beaver starts talking for him (in a bizarre British accent).
Porter has long been crushing on Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), and she comes to him to write her graduation speech. He sees this as an opportunity to get closer to her, but then also Norah’s got a horrible tragedy in her past that she needs to come to terms with. With the help of the hand puppet Walter comes up with a toy that quickly becomes a phenomenon, but the puppet takes him over Walter’s actions – even though he’s back in with his wife, and the shorthand should suggest that he’s in a better place. As Walter’s life turns around, he grows more depressed even in success.
For what amounts to a black comedy with a very out there premise, what Foster does with the material is blandify it. If the film succeeds on any level, it’s that it treats Walter’s depression and that side of the story with a great seriousness, and Gibson is as good as he’s been in a very long time. But with a story like this, you wait for it to be fun – maybe not campy, but in some way acknowledge the absurdity of the situation, and use that to tell a serious story in a way that’s at least fun to watch. But it seems the whole film was born out of therapy sessions, and so it’s never as much fun to watch as it should be, and when the film moves to its natural conclusion, you hope the battle between Walter and the puppet on his hand was more engaging (or perhaps Raimi-esque), but – and I guess it’s understandable – the fear that the movie might become too silly or too campy keeps the film from ever developing much of a pulse. This feels like the version of the film that’s been taking its meds. And sadly, great art rarely takes “good for you” drugs.
Summit’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Surround. Extras include a commentary by Foster (good, slightly dull), two deleted scenes with commentary (5 min.) and a making of (12 min.).