(Leave It To) The Beaver Review

The Beaver Review
by Bret Dorman

The big surprise in The Beaver to me isn’t that Mel Gibson is the lead, but that it’s directed by Jodie Foster, who also stars opposite that aforementioned crazy guy. And when making a movie about a guy who communicates primarily through an old beaver hand puppet, getting the tone right is very important. If you take yourself too seriously, you become pretentious. If you take it too lightly, all the emotion the script has gets lost. Good luck Miss Foster…

The Story: Mel Gibson is crazy (true dat!). And in order to battle depression he talks through an old beaver hand puppet. His wife, Jodie Foster and son Anton Yelchin try to cope with this and their own struggles in this thing we call life. Also, The Beaver has an Australian accent…

The biggest thing on people’s minds will undoubtedly be Mel. He was in last years Edge of Darkness, but then his last big movie role was 2003’s The Singing Detective. And inbetween those two was some movie about Jesus getting beat up and a bunch of drunk driving/anti-semetic remark incidents. Mel, like Tom Cruise, went from beloved actor to some douche everyone loved to hate.

But people forget one thing… (much like Tom Cruise)… Mel Gibson can act. And he’s not just a decent acotr, or a good actor, or a great actor. He’s a heavy hitter. He does those things no one else can do. Top tier. Yeah. I said it. I love Mel Gibson.

For this role he has to pull a dual personality thing. He starts off just some depressed guy and moves to crazy Beaver guy. But we strategically see Mel and The Beaver in the same shot for most the time they are on screen. It reminds me of Jim Carrey fighting himself in Me, Myself, and Irene, only its not as slapstick. Mel’s got two characters going on but has to play one purely through hand movements and his voice while keeping everything else the same.

There’s moments in The Beaver where you’ll chuckle at The Beaver. What a silly thing. This man talking to himself like this. But then there’s the moments where The Beaver will say something and it strikes you as scary. Even Mel reacts with some fear. But The Beaver remains unfazed. Its these moments of uncertainty where Mel takes what another actor might ham up and makes it real.

As I mention before, getting the tone right is big for a movie like this. The premise is ridiculous, but in order for it to work you need to play it straight. And by playing it straight, you also have to accept how goofy it is and let that shine a little as well. Its a very difficult predicament. Somehow Jodie Foster, with only a few movies under her director’s belt, really gets that delicate balance down.

The movie’s funny when it needs to be because of the characters reactions to the overall situation. But its also serious when it needs to be. In fact, my big concern isn’t the shifts from comedy to drama, but the lack of shifts in drama to drama.

It seems like in every dramatic scene, characters immediately start tearing up and voices raise. And when you set a constant bar for characters getting teary eyed and super emotional, it sort of diminishes the bigger moments at the end when they also get teary eyed but its supposed to mean more because of the changes they’ve been through. The actors handle it well, but not every scene needs maximum emotion.

Which brings me to the biggest downfall of the movie. The first 30 minutes is really great and as Mel discovers how broken of a man he is and how to rebuild himself, its all interesting and engaging. But once the movie moves into its sub plots, it starts to stray from interesting to familiar. We’ve all seen the story of high school loner falling for high school hottie and the trials and tribulations of their love for each other.

Every supporting character is your basic stereotype. Anton Yelchin is the high school loner. Jennifer Lawrence is the high school hottie. Riley Thomas Stewart is the adorable kid. Jodie Foster is the spouse who has done enough and can’t take it anymore but will always come back. I appreciate (I really do) that every character does have small little quirks here and there, but at the end of the day, by them time the third act begins, you know exactly what’s going to happen.

And its a shame because I found myself liking Mel’s character and his journey and what he had to do to become himself again. There are some interesting things that start off the third act but by the time the movie ends it just ends in familiar Hallmark territory.

Before I end, I’d also like to mention that The Beaver puppet itself was really great. Whoever found/designed it picked a really engaging puppet. There were times where it actually did seem to have its own personality.

In Conclusion, The Beaver does some things really well while it depends on basic formula for the rest. I’m all for Hollywood formulas and Happy Endings, but the way this movie started it would have been nice to see a more unique take on the familiar endings. Still though, it was unique and slightly refreshing.

Final Grade: B

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