November 27, 2012

Retroview: The Beaver

A Retroview Review. 
Luke here.  Through a lucky break, I was able to see the Denver premier of Jodie Foster's new movie The Beaver.  Now there's a movie you're gonna have a hard time telling Mom you went to see...

I have an obsession with madness.  As Mel Gibson's character, Walter Black, says in The Beaver, "People seem to love a train wreck, as long as it's not them,"and I'd be remiss not to claim this quality for myself.  I also have a penchant for the absurd, coupled with a love of the uncanny.  So when I heard that a woman who I have an equally inexplicable attraction to, Jodie Foster, was throwing her director's hat back into the ring after having been absent for over 15 years, and it was going to star the Kanye West of movies, Mel Gibson, whose character begins to focus his delusions through a hand puppet... well I was sold.  And that's what makes this so hard...

The Beaver follows chronically depressed Walter Black (Gibson) down a twisting road to redemption.  He finds his way out of his depression by projecting his will to live on a hand puppet he find in the garbage.  The puppet takes on a life of it's own, it seems, and allows Walter to weasel his way back into the house his wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), kicked him out of in the beginning of the movie. His family supports him the best they can, and his previously faltering company actually thrives due to his new found confidence.  Good things never last, though, and when things so sour, things really get out of hand.

The movie was, at times, a breath of fresh air.  It was impressively shot, the camera work and lighting highly commendable  The way certain aspects of the concept played out, such as actually seeing Walter speaking for the Beaver instead of cutting away to make it appear that the Beaver was speaking on it's own, felt risky and new.  The movie asks the audience to suspend it's disbelief about how the business world works in what could be called an unconventional move.  I enjoyed how, after a while, Walter legitimately seemed to have been taken hostage by The Beaver.  Mel Gibson's performance is understated, and easily over looked, but I think there is something to be said for the fact that, when he speaks as The Beaver, it honestly feels like a different person is on the screen, even though you can clearly see him speaking for The Beaver.  Truly a remarkable performance.  But this is me dancing around the point, which is, plainly, that I can not recommend this movie.

I would like to say that it must be difficult to write interesting, 'quirky' characters these days.  When I think of becoming 'jaded' to the things that movies throw at us, I think more along the lines of blood and gore ... not multifaceted characters.  Every major character in The Beaver has several sides to them; the wife who juggles her collapsing family and her roller-coaster designing career (meaning that she designs roller-coasters), the smart bad boy who has excessive daddy problems, the valedictorian who doesn't want to face her mysterious past (and is also 'bad'), and, of course, the mad business man whose alter-ego (superego?) is manifested in a stuffed beaver puppet.  I would like to say that it's as though every character in every movie has to have so many 'quirks' to be considered 'outside of the norm,' because the market is so inundated with 'quirk' that any character with only two different sides seem cliche, boring ... and follow that up with saying that we have kind of seen it all.

But that's not really true, is it?  I know that that's what I want to be true because I think the main problem with The Beaver is that there's a warmth absent from it that makes the movie lifeless.  We don't have anything invested in the family, no reason to root for their coming back together, because, honestly, no one in the family is very likable.  This could conceivably be overlooked, but we aren't even given a reason to like Walter other than a few points of exposition that he once was a wonderful father that loved his family.  In The Beaver, there is a lot of "show" and not a lot of "tell," which is great, but where we need it most, with the character development, we are short changed, and just sort of expected to accept that the family would be better together, without any real reason.

The movie is billed as a black-comedy, which is a little strange, as there were few laughs to be had, even at another's expense.  It was mostly just depressing and strange (not always a bad thing).  I suppose the eldest son's side plot was kind of funny at times, but because the side plot felt so out of place and unnecessary, I found myself not really caring if his part of the story was funny or not.  I was more interested in getting back to the bizarre Walter Black.

The Beaver is a crazy movie.  I'm glad I saw it once, and I can honestly say things happened in it that I did not expect even a little (my suspension of disbelief was stretched a little too thin in some parts, which was a little hard to handle).  But, with a heavy heart, I have to say I don't think I have much of a reason to go back and see it again.

---Luke Hunter James-Erickson

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