Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Beaver

PCMR Verdict: Hits its marks, and disappointingly manages to not be terrible. Knowing, off-beat, and featuring a solid central performance from Gibson, 'The Beaver' is a little bleak, and perhaps not quite as smart as it would like to be.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

PCMR has a well-honed sense of schadenfreude constantly at the ready, and so was really looking forward to watching 'The Beaver'. You see, in the last few weeks especially, I've been spoiled with a half dozen above average movies, so some gleeful hand-rubbing and knowing giggles accompanied the opening credits of 'The Beaver', Mel's first outing in front of the camera since 'Edge of Darkness' (No, I didn't see that either - Ed). Oh, did I mention that in this one, Mad Mel plays a manic depressive who speaks via a puppet? That's probably important...

So, with said schadenfreude in mind, I should also say that PCMR's Law of Movie Expectations is hard at work here. To explain, after seeing the bleak trailer, where a depressive Gibson voices his Beaver puppet with a mockney accent, I was cheerfully expecting a full-on car crash of a movie. The problem is, after seeing it, PCMR has to concede that 'The Beaver' is actually not completely awful. So, is it any good, or were my expectations just sufficiently low? Hmm, that's a more difficult question.

We don't need to dredge up Gibson's off-screen shenanigans again (google them - Ed), but safe to say, at the time The Beaver was shot, he wasn't exactly Hollywood's poster boy. However, PCMR has a feeling that all the negative stuff going on in Mel's life might have actually helped him portray this role of a manic depressive on the verge of jacking it all in: his performance is actually pretty good.

As the movie opens, Walter Black (Gibson) narrates a tale of woe. He's successful, with a beautiful house and a nice nuclear family, but is profoundly depressed, and just wants to sleep all the time. Black (ah, I see what they did there - Ed) has tried numerous therapies, but can't seem kick his middle-class first-world mid-life crisis.

At a low point, he finds a puppet in a skip (or as they're known in Hollywood, a dumpster) and picks it up on impulse. At an even lower point, Black begins to speak through the puppet, much to the initial horror of his family. Bizarrely though, it seems to give him a kick-start. The beaver is even a hit at the office, and his work life starts to pick up. His youngest son takes a shine to the beaver (ahem - Ed), and their relationship starts to improve as a result.

As the movie progresses, we also get to know Mel's wife, (Jodie Foster) and two sons (Anton Yelchin and another youngling). Yelchin's story in particular has parallels with his father's, as he sells ghost written essays for other kids in his high school. (Ah, communication problems, no voice of his own, eh? - Ed) Yelchin's character earnestly tries to avoid turning out like his apparently crazy dad, but as the movie progresses, his struggle seems more and more in vain.

These two narrative threads form the backbone of The Beaver. Mel's story is the more interesting of the two, and the first few beaver scenes are so bizarre, they're actually a little dark and knowingly comedic. Yelchin's story is relatively less satisfying, as it revolves around the writing of a graduation speech, which is a pretty heavy-handed device (and what, the puppet isn't!? - Ed).

But you know what? Despite its failings, 'The Beaver' isn't terrible. Black senior's genuine depression is deftly set alongside Junior's normal teen difficulties, putting both in their proper perspective. Mel Gibson's capable performance makes his character gradually more likeable as the movie progresses and for the most part, I was morbidly curious to see how it would play out.

It gets good marks for script and crazy Mel's fragile, honest performance. There's a good narrative thread, and the story is reasonably well put together. Unfortunately, the device of the Beaver does get a little tiresome, and you might struggle to sympathise with this guy who is doing extremely well for himself, despite his first world problems. The device of the graduation speech is also a little laboured, but perhaps not as cheesy as it could have been.

PCMR cannot wholeheartedly recommend that you seek out The Beaver, but it's not a complete train wreck, which is actually a little disappointing really... For a movie about depression, it's about as entertaining as you might expect.

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