Apparently, multiplex traffic has been lighter than anyone expected and folks have been staying away in droves from the wonderful Jodie Foster-directed film The Beaver. It’s a quirky but genuinely emotional, darkish comedy about American family life, with serious undertones and redemptive warmth on its side. The film proves once again that Foster—as both director and actor—has something to say, and an engaging way of saying it.
Oh, did we mention that it stars tabloid-stained Hollywood persona non-grata Mel Gibson, and that it deals fairly directly with the subject of debilitating depression? Those factors could have something to do with the audience issue, which is a shame. Gibson, in fact, puts in one of the more impressive and nuanced performances of his career, doing double duty as the depression-benumbed midlife CEO/family man and as his cockney-spewing alter ego hand puppet, The Beaver.
As for the depression theme, it’s certainly a relevant one to contend with, and Foster’s treatment of Kyle Killen’s script is a dazzling feat, giving the disorder its due weight, but leavening the tale with offbeat humor. Wisely, and true to reality, the story also touches on the effect of depression on family members—especially a teenage son (Anton Yelchin) grappling with fears of following suit—and second-hand “victims” in the periphery of the afflicted. Pretty much all is right with this film, right down to the affectingly bittersweet, accordion-laced music score by Marcel Zarvos, and a ripe placement of Radiohead’s “Exit Music (for a Film).”
With vague parallels to such eccentric but moving tales of American life as Lars and the Real Girl (another protagonist with an “imaginary” friend) and American Beauty (trouble brewing in the suburbs), The Beaver establishes itself as a fascinating and important film, whose real shelf life may be in its post-big-screen afterlife. In this case, looking at the finished work, at the art rather than the artist or the blurb summary, is the wisest option.