If there was ever a vehicle for Mel Gibson to make a comeback, it would be The Beaver. Despite its silly title, The Beaver has a premise that more or less runs parallel to Mel Gibson’s current PR debacle. With anti-Semitic vocabulary falling out of his mouth and talks of misogyny following him like a shadow, Gibson is a man who has lost his mojo and credibility. The same can be said for Walter Black, the depressed toy tycoon that Gibson plays in the film. Black’s company is falling into the gutter, his family life is in shambles, and his mental health is plunging into the black abyss known as depression. To escape the feeling of helplessness and loneliness, Walter sleeps away his days while his wife and two kids live life without him. As a matter of fact, Walter’s oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), works tirelessly to document all the traits he shares with his father in the hopes to obliterate their similarities. By seeking no help from his family or getting further help from professionals, Walter is living on the fringe. After his lack of interest in the family, or anything else for that matter, Walter is banished from his house by his wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster).
Stuck in a hotel room with a decaying ceiling, Walter sees his only solution is self-prescribed euthanasia. Pathetic and lacking any real drive, Walter fails at achieving an ending that will set him free, but in the process opens himself up to a beaver hand puppet that he finds in a garbage can. With a splash of alcohol and the splitting of his personality, Walter takes on the role of the hand puppet and begins to talk through it. Calling it “The Beaver”, Walter develops an open dialogue with this inanimate object and soon seeks successful counsel from it. It’s through “The Beaver” that Walter regains his footing in a world that has left him behind. Soon, after some initial trepidation, Walter is allowed to move back in with his family. Things go great up until “The Beaver’s” presence is no longer welcome by the Black family. Walter’s life disintegrates again, leaving him to choose between finding alternative therapies and hanging on to a hand puppet that now controls most of his life. I think you already know who Walter chooses.
Obviously the film’s premise is a bit eccentric considering that Gibson’s character spends most of the film talking to a hand puppet that possesses a British accent, but there is a great level of honesty found in the film’s depiction of depression and other mental ailments. In many ways it’s the film’s best asset. The problem with the film is that it struggles to strike a balance between its dramatic and comedic attributes. Actually, the film’s dramatic tendencies dominate the premise’s colorful moments, especially in the third act where things get gruesomely dark. This is not to say that there isn’t humor to be found in The Beaver, but I just don’t think director Jodie Foster did enough to mine the laughs from the absurd. Instead the film’s best opportunities for any kind of giggles are oppressively snuffed out. Despite its lack of a handle on its tonal shifts, there are some terrific moments in The Beaver, most of which come from Mel Gibson. Gibson’s performance is oddly moving and filled with enough complexity to keep us engaged with the hand puppet action. The same can be said for Yelchin and Foster, who both get starling moments to shine, granted they pale in comparison to the gravitas of Gibson.
Even though the cast delivers some strong moments and some fine characteristics are pegged by the script, they don’t keep The Beaver from feeling a bit forced and underdeveloped. More specifically, the expected familial reconciliation and the wrap up of a love based subplot come to fruition without truly being earned. It’s not that they don’t contain some ounce of goodwill; it’s just that the character’s behaviors seem rushed in comparison to the true trajectory of their arcs. It disheartens me to say that, outside its invested interest in capturing depression, The Beaver feels like it’s coasting on its unique premise. Sure, there are some strong moments, but The Beaver’s hasty pace and lack of tonal balance waste what could’ve been a great comeback role for Mel Gibson.