A severely depressed man starts talking through a beaver puppet while his family try to cope with his strange new behaviour.
Jodie Foster, 2011
Due to Mel Gibson’s personal politics I’ve been avoiding watching this movie for a long time. I’d heard it was good, but I didn’t want to support him in any way. Then I found out Jennifer Lawrence was in it and I was sold.
For all that you know this is going to be an odd movie going into it – Mel Gibson’s Walter handles his depression via talking beaver – it’s even stranger than expected. It has a strong cast aside from Gibson, including Jodie Foster as a wife who’s holding her family together as best she can, Anton Yelchin as his…difficult son, and Jennifer Lawrence as a cheerleader from the son’s school. There’s a frank but delicate handling of mental health issues through most of the movie, and the ultimate message is a good one, but at one point something happens that completely threw me off. I saw it coming just before it happened and it was so violent and unexpected that it kind of removed me from the movie from that point on. There’s also the fact that, throughout nearly the whole movie, the “real” Walter is practically non-existent. He speaks through the puppet with a Michael Caine-esque accent for nearly the entire thing. It’s hard to get a grasp on any characteristics of the man himself, because the whole thing is just succumbing to and then struggling with the beaver.
The creation of the beaver as its own character is surprisingly effective, however strange it may look. There are moments when you get caught up in the concept of the beaver as its own entity, with its own ideas and personality that aren’t just flashes pulled from Walter’s troubled psyche, though that is, of course, what the beaver represents. He’s Walter’s defense strategy, putting up a furry wall between the man and the world outside, and it’s effective until it isn’t.
Jennifer Lawrence just shines in pretty much everything, and in this it’s no different – she steals the movie fairly easily, particularly opposite Anton Yelchin, who is fine but not quite up to her standards. The music and ambiance created by Jodie Foster are excellent, downbeat and modern, reflecting the overall tone of the film. She does a good job as the wife as well, bringing her quiet struggle a lot of heart and dignity in the face of…you know, a talking beaver puppet. There are moments of humour, though some are probably unintentional. There are also some strange things done with the sound editing that made me feel distant from the film, which might be what they were going for, but I found it distracting. For all the emotion in the movie, I just didn’t feel any emotional resonance when I was through watching it.
The Beaver on IMDb