Sunday, January 22, 2012
Day 53: The Beaver
"Starting over isn't crazy. Crazy is being miserable and walking around half asleep, numb, day after day after day. Crazy is pretending to be happy. Pretending that the way things are is the way they have to be for the rest of your bleeding life"
For my number ten film of 2011, I selected Jodie Foster's The Beaver, the much-hyped, devastatingly under-seen first starring role for Mel Gibson since his much-publicized fall from grace in 2010. The film grossed a paltry one million dollars in its entire theatrical run, despite a pretty clever ad campaign and a lot of buzz as the script had topped the famous "Black List" of best unproduced screenplays in 2009. Steve Carell had been attached to it at one point, and Jim Carrey as well according to imdb, though I hadn't heard that before now. By the time it trickled down to Gibson, people just seemed to have lost interest. There is a certain amount of time that people consider to be "too soon" when dealing with a public catastrophe, and it seems like it was just too soon for many of Gibson's detractors.
The script by Kyle Killen is brilliant beyond words. In fact, if the film itself is anything, it's a mediocre vehicle for a fantastic script. Not that I think the film isn't good, it's just not as good as the script itself. The film tells the story of Walter Black, the CEO of a struggling toy company who is in a deep depression. As the film opens, he is being kicked out of his house by his wife (Jodie Foster) and he drives to a liquor store where he discovers a beaver puppet in the dumpster. He takes the puppet with him to the hotel, and just as he is about to kill himself, the puppet talks to him and his suicide attempt fails.
Okay, I know what you're thinking right now, but believe me, it works. Whenever the beaver is talking, it's very clear that Walter is operating the puppet and talking. It's not like it's magic or something, so don't worry about that. Walter goes everywhere with the puppet, handing people a card that says he's under the care of a prescription puppet that is supposed to help him create a psychological distance between him and his problems. He begins communicating with people solely through the puppet, to mixed results at best. It's best not to spoil any of the details, but for me anyway, it all worked beautifully.
Walter's story is juxtaposed with the story of his oldest son Porter (Anton Yelchin). At school, people pay Porter to write papers for them and he is apparently very talented at it. At home, Porter has a litany of post-it notes in his bedroom, each one containing a similarity between himself and his father that he wishes to purge himself of. Porter is approached by the class valedictorian Norah (Jennifer Lawrence, hands-down the best young actress in film today) for help writing her graduation speech. The relationship that develops between the two also takes some interesting twists and turns, and is done just as well as the main story line.
The film does have some visual flair to it, which was a nice surprise. Jodie Foster has always been a director that worked well with child actors, and she gets a very nice performance from the young actor who plays their youngest son, Riley Thomas Stewart. I also loved her little touches, like the suit Walter wears when he finds the puppet, it looks like it's two sizes too big, not because he can't afford a suit that fits, but because he's a shadow of the man he used to be.
If there's one thing I've learned, it's that haters gonna hate, but I'll go ahead and say it, this is the best performance of Mel Gibson's career. I was a big fan of Gibson as an actor for most of my life. I kind of got off his bandwagon around the early 2000s when he was just making the same movie over and over and then stopped doing that to focus on directing. Passion of the Christ is an undeniably gorgeous film, even though it's downright pornographic in its violent content. The thought of any parent taking their child to that film makes me ill, and just shows the amount of delusion that can be found among the zealots in the church, but I digress.
I never really got caught up in any of his personal shenanigans beyond thinking that they were amusing at best and stupid at worst. I'm sorry, but no one censors themselves when they're leaving private voicemails, so to make the man a pariah for that never made any sense to me. I've never given a shit about what people do in their private lives, so long as they delivered in their jobs (Bill Clinton, Russell Crowe & Robert Downey, Jr. being notable examples). Gibson was dragged through the mud, and I'm not saying he wasn't complicit in what happened, but what does it matter, really, at the end of the day? The man's an entertainer. If you don't like his attitude, don't date him. Okay, that's the end of my tangent.
The other actors are also great, top to bottom. It's easy to forget how good Jodie Foster is as an actress because she acts so infrequently, but she's pretty spectacular as well. Yelchin and Lawrence are also outstanding, as is Cherry Jones as the vice president of the toy company. For me, this film felt like a logical extension of Fight Club. It's the middle-aged version of it, and I think that seeing the film will make that pretty obvious. What at first seems like the perfect diversion from our problems, can end up controlling our lives, but are we better men because of it or in spite of it?
The Beaver was far and away the most pleasant surprise of the year for me, and it's a movie I wish more people would see. It's worth your time, and I think that if you're willing to go along for the ride, it'll take you to some pretty surprising and fantastic places.
I'll be back tomorrow with my number nine film of 2011, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.