Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Beaver

The Beaver

Directed by Jodie Foster

Despite his greatest efforts, not even Mel Gibson (who delivers a powerful, emotional performance) can save this picture from it's strange and silly premise.

There is a fine line between dark comedy and drama. The Beaver fails to define itself as one or the other, giving us a blend of humorous moments (which often work well) and surprisingly dark ones, which would have been able to be pulled off, had they not been in such close proximity. Director Jodie Foster seemed unable to decide whether the subject was supposed to be taken seriously or not, giving us an opaque, unrelentingly dark and moody pseudo-comedy.

If you've ever heard of it, I'm sure you are at least aware of the basic concept behind this movie -- a hopelessly depressed man uses a beaver hand-puppet as a means to separate the good and bad aspects of his life, in hopes to make his life tolerable again. At the beginning of the movie we witness his failed suicide attempt, followed shortly by the realization that this beaver puppet has "a life of it's own". I am willing to accept this as a premise for a comedy -- why not? But as the story progresses, there begins a tonal shift that pushes this movie out of the comedy spectrum, and completely into the world drama.

The back-story of his estranged son, who would like nothing more than to have nothing to do with his father could have worked far better than it did. The pieces are all there for a great dysfunctional family drama, but instead Foster takes the path of showing the son's attempted romance with a girl at his school. Take this story away from the main "beaver" plot-line and you could have a perfectly respectable movie. Blended together, you can't help but to feel that they realized halfway through that there wasn't enough material to make a full-length movie, so they added an extra 20-30 minutes of backstory just to fill it out.

There is a heavy focus on the subject of suicide in this movie -- nearly every single character feels like, if left on their own for too long, they might off themselves at any moment. And by making two of the funniest parts in the whole thing (though perhaps unintentionally) focusing on either suicide, or self-mutilation, it's as if they're trying to make suicide into a joke -- I'm sorry, but watching Mel Gibson wrestle with a hand-puppet is funny, despite its dark context.

Now, I realize I have put the most emphasis of what I believe to be the negative aspects of the film, so now I will give you a little bit of the positive: The acting, for one, is great by everyone involved. From Gibson's manic depressive puppeteer, to Yelchin's deeply-troubled teen, and Foster's caring but overbearing wife and mother, the cast is purely fantastic. I suspect that many of the performances will be ignored come Oscar season, but that doesn't take away from the fine acting found in this movie.

In conclusion, The Beaver is both an enormous success (mostly for the actors) and a complete failure. In its inability to form a cohesive structure and tonal balance, we are left feeling slightly empty and disturbed by the time it all comes to an end.
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