Thursday, November 24, 2011

Movie Review: The Beaver (2011)

In elementary school one of the things I learned when I first started writing were the different types: narrative, expository and persuasive. Narrative writing tells a story, expository writing gives facts and persuasive is meant to convince someone of something. Generally when I'm doing my own writing these days I'm able to discern pretty clearly what kind of writing I'm doing. But with this piece I'm not sure which category to file it under. It's really all three.
I'm going to tell you a story to convince you of the fact that this movie exists.
Because that's the hardest part to accept about The Beaver: that it exists. You will never be able to relax the entire time this movie is playing. And the worst part of it is that it wants you to feel just the opposite. Director/Co-Star Jodie Foster (!) desperately wants you to feel warmed and comforted yet you feel disturbed and off-kilter constantly.
Hey, here's a fun exercise: Try to get this fact through your head: Mel Gibson spends every second of the movie playing an American CEO of a failing family business talking in third person in an Australian accent through a beaver puppet he found in a dumpster. It took until the credits were rolling to come to terms with this fact. See how long it takes you.
Things get off to a rocky start already before the movie even starts. You know how when there's a movie that features smoking how there's inevitably an anti-smoking ad nestled in the previews? Well, since The Beaver's inciting incident is Gibson's character Walter Black being clobbered in the head by a television after a failed suicide attempt in a hotel room, the following ad for, I guess, depression, plays:

You feeling any better yet? Did that warm the old heart cockles?
I first became aware of The Beaver a few months after he completely imploded in 2010 (most recently, not the other time in 2006).

I wondered how Gibson was ever going to bounce back after I heard these tapes of him threatening Oksana Grigorieva:

A few months later, this was the first Mel Gibson joint to be released since these crazy, crazy recordings were leaked. It's notable that Foster stood by him in the aftermath of this, at least for a while. I guess their last joint collaboration, 1994's Maverick, was more than just a moderately re-watchable movie I remember seeing all the time on HBO when I was a kid. The Beaver was such an odd career choice for Mel Gibson at this point. Would no one else hire him except his only friend left? Surely the Christian community could have given him some more work after the rousing commercial success of The Passion of the Christ. I also find it strange that Jodie Foster would be so willing to hitch her highest-budgeted (and third) directorial effort to a star with so much baggage. And such a weird concept, no less. I still don't understand the logic of any of this.
For a movie that cost $21 million to make, it earned back less than 1/3 of that in box office receipts. That's really a shame because it means that not many people saw this movie initially. It really does deserve to be seen, if only to be believed. Then again maybe it's a good thing. Maybe people will think twice before green-lighting things like this. Taking chances is one thing. Leaping off a cliff and hoping for the best is quite another.

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