Finally! Mel Gibson in Jodie Foster’s Beaver!

Now with the obvious joke out the way, we can take a serious look at a movie about a man who is down on his luck, and is subsequently rescued by a hand puppet of a Beaver.

No, really, it’s a serious movie. Damn serious.

Mel Gibson is a man in a serious funk. He sleepwalks through his work day at the toy company his father left him (which is tanking). He’s uninterested in his wife, Jodie Foster (stop snarking). His teen son (Anton Yelchin of Star Trek) keeps a record of the ways in which he’s like his father, so that he can stop being that way. He can’t even muster a smile for his younger son.

Out of desperation, his wife kicks him out of the house, and he picks up a whole bunch of booze—and the eponymous beaver, fished out of a dumpster—and crashes in a hotel where he drinks himself silly, then tries to kill himself and fails. Only to be woken by the beaver puppet, who starts ordering him around.

The Beaver narrates, by the way.

This works better than one might think. Foster (directing) keeps a light touch for as long as she possibly can, given the heaviness of the subject, and she’s very careful about juxtaposing the puppet and Gibson during the dialogue.

She’s probably not going to get the credit she deserves, really. The audience laughs at the right parts and not at the wrong ones, and stays away from any kind of heavy-handed approach, really just focusing on how crazy folks cope.

Do I need to say the acting is good? It’s arguably the best stuff Gibson’s ever done. He and Foster have a genuine chemistry, that your heart goes out to her as she’s trying to figure out how to save the man she loves. Yelchin is very good, too, being in that Jesse Eisenberg/Michael Cera mold without the wimpiness of the latter and the bitterness of the former. The little brother (Riley Thomas Stewart) also did a fine job.

Jennifer Lawrence shows up as Yelchin’s girlfriend, who has troubles of her own. You may remember her from Winter’s Bone, and as my pic for last year’s Best Actress Oscar. I liked her but it seemed like her scenes with Yelchin detracted from the film’s intensity.

This was probably deliberate. This movie isn’t trying to be allegorical. At one point, it looks like Gibson and his crazy puppet are going to become media sensations, offering an almost What About Bob? approach to life.

But besides not being a comedy, the movie doesn’t try to be neat. There is fallout from the crazy—serious fallout. And we see the crazy hurting lots of people in lots of different ways: If they had tied everything up in a neat bow, turned Gibson into a kind of crazy savant, it would have cheapened the whole story.

At the same time, it’s not quite great. Solid. Memorable. Great performances. Respectful.

And short. Foster doesn’t wallow in it. She tells her story—in 90 minutes—and gets out. The movie is much the better for it.

Obviously not for everyone. The Boy enjoyed it, but he classed it as one of those movies that looks like it might be really funny, but is really serious instead. (Longtime readers may recall we had a spate of those throughout 2009.)

Me, I was sort of expecting a supernatural overtone, as movies about puppets are wont to speculate on the liveness thereof. There’s never even a hint of that, so when the puppet does seem to defy Gibson’s will, it’s incredibly chilling. Also, it sounds a lot like Michael Caine to me. And that’s sorta scary (since it is of course Gibson).

Not a joke of a movie.

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