The Beaver

Jodie Foster’s The Beaver is a fairly successful and affecting film about a middle-aged man (Mel Gibson) who, unaccountably, has drifted into a deep depression that has dismantled his business and his family. He is rescued (sort of) by a beaver puppet he finds in a dumpster. (It actually plays better than my summary suggests.)

His wife (Foster) and teenage son (Anton Yelchin) have had it with Downer Dad (and, yes, that plays as harshly as it sounds) and when he begins channeling his ego through a puppet that talks like the macho-version of the gecko from Geico it delights his younger son (Riley Thomas Stewart) but is not a sign of positive healing to other folks – at first. The puppetry – which I thought for a minute was a sign that the film was to be read as a parable – is surreal at times, played for broad laughs at others, but Gibson pulls it off with brio.

The movie comprises parallel stories that track Dad’s ups and downs with that of older son, Porter, who writes cribbed essays and term papers for classmates for pay so that he can take a pre-college trek across the country to visit sites that altered the course of history. (Now that’s an interesting idea for a movie.) Yelchin is a fine actor but his character was an annoyance to me because, again unaccountably, he despises his father and fears becoming like him, which, of course, all but seals his fate.

Much of what Foster puts on the screen is entertaining, and Gibson (as difficult as he might be for some folks to stomach) is pretty terrific. The story, written by Kyle Killen, has some puzzling elements – primarily the reason for Dad’s gloominess and why No. 1 son is such a gigantic pill. I suppose when you’re working on 90 minutes and change, some exposition has to be sacrificed.

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