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It’s Saturday night and I am home alone, watching Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster’s 2011 drama, The Beaver.
One might be asking why I would choose to spend my Saturday evening watching a movie of this caliber and the answer is, honestly, because it was there, it was free, because I’m something of a cinemasochist, and because apparently no one loved me enough to stop me.
What follows is my recollection of and reaction to the plot.
(DISCLAIMER: Do not attempt to view this movie at home. I am a trained professional.)
The story opens with Mel Gibson having been kicked out of his home by his wife, Jodie Foster – due to her not being about to cope with his downtrodden moods anymore – and moving into a bizarre cross between a decent hotel and a run-down motel. He can’t relate to his kids, angsty Anton Yelchin and some six-year-old who’s only really used as a plot device, the toy business he runs is tanking, and he’s depressed as hell. Most likely because of the Jews or something. (Mel’s words. Not mine.)
That night, while carrying a box of assorted bottles of booze, that he just bought but can’t seem to fit in the trunk of his car, out to the dumpster, he discovers a beaver puppet.
In the fucking dumpster.
Deciding it is a sane and sanitary thing to do, Braveheart takes his one man’s trash new friend back to his motel room with him, where he gets drunk and tries to commit suicide. Yeah.
Mad Max ties a necktie to the shower curtain rod and tries to hang himself which, as can be expected, does not work the way he — or the audience — hopes it will. He falls with the shower curtain rod still tied around he neck. Then, gets up, with the shower curtain rod still tied around his neck, decides instead to give jumping off the balcony the ol’ college try, stumbles and falls the wrong way back onto the floor of the hotel room. The impact of which causes the TV to fall off of the dresser and hit him on the head.
The entire time, yes, he is wearing a beaver puppet on his left hand.
When he comes to, he — The Beaver — is speaking to him — Mel Gibson — in a weird Cockney Australian (?) accent. Except Mel is physically speaking both parts, of course, rotating voices accordingly.
Beaver Mel convinces Mel Mel that he, Mel Mel, needs Beaver Mel around to deal with his depression and all of his life problems. And does so by telling him that he needs to “forget about home improvement,” and “blow up the whole bloody building.” Of his life. Or something.
There’s just a whole scene of Mel Gibson shouting “Blow it up!” over and over.
This is all with within the first ten minutes of the film, by the way.
I shit you not.
So Mel Mel must now convince (Re: lie to) his wife, his kids, and his employees that his therapist, whom he has since stopped seeing, has instructed him to wear — and communicate through — this beaver puppet, that quite obviously once lived in the garbage, at all times. “A prescription puppet.”
That is an actual phrase used in movie.
There’s also this whole subplot with angsty Charlie Bartlett — whose favorite pastimes include making money off of writing school papers for his friends, trying not to be like his father, and hitting his forehead against the bedroom wall until he literally smashes a hole all the way through to the outside of the house — and this girl he likes, Jennifer Lawrence, who used to tag graffiti around town and is also sad about her brother’s death. She wants to hire him to write her graduation speech for her, because, y’know, she’s smart enough to become valedictorian but not write a speech. Or something.
Maverick uses The Beaver to bond with his six-year-old, who likes to play with his father’s wood-working tools and, in doing so, comes up with the brilliant idea of selling tools for kids and saves his money-hemorrhaging toy business. And because he’s obviously mentally unstable and wears a child’s plush toy on his hand, his wife lets him back in the house literally the very next day, because fixing a broken marriage is just that easy. Problems: solved.
Time passes – about year, if I recall correctly – and The Beaver has become such an essential part of Conspiracy Theory’s life that everyone generally accepts that a grown man with pretty severe emotional issues is talking to them with a rodent doll on his hand. (Probably because they don’t want to receive any racist, threatening messages left on their voicemail.) He showers with it, brushes its plush teeth with his own toothbrush, and even keeps it on while he has sex with his wife.
Because that is normal…?
Everything seems to be coming up Milhouse for ol’ Forever Young, until his wife requests that he leaves The Beaver at home while they go out to dinner for their 20th anniversary. They compromise and he wears The Beaver on their date anyway, although, communicates without it.
During the meal, she gives him his anniversary gift; a wooden box that she and her son made with, presumably with the Mr. Beaver Woodchopper Kit his toy company manufactures, filled with family photos from before What Women Want was diagnosed with depression. Ol’ Mel slips off the Edge of Darkness and The Beaver rears its ugly head once again, revealing that the part of Mel she knew died in that suicide attempt and that he, The Beaver, is all that is left.
At the same time Charlie Bartlett tries to make his ladyfriend feel better about her brother’s death by getting her to vandalize city property again with hilarious results. (They get arrested.)
The Beaver and his wife race to the police station to bail their son out of jail. But angsty Charlie Bartlett blames all of his problems on Ransom and The Beaver, and forcible tries to remove the rodent doll from his father’s hand. Not having this, We Were Soldiers hits his son.
Things come to a head when his wife finds out that Chicken Run hasn’t been to see his therapist in over a year and that The Beaver is not a prescription puppet but just a thing found in a dumpster and why didn’t she figure this out the first time her emotionally damaged husband spoke to her through a dirty sock on his hand?
Needless to say, after several years of dealing with his depression, and another year of bad ventriloquism, his family leaves him.
Not content with merely fucking up his relationship with his wife and kids, The Beaver sets his sites on his work. He decides to out himself as
a crazy fucking psychopath the real mastermind of the company, going so far as to tell his vice-president that he is “not a puppet,” that “he is real” and “alive.”
SPOILER: Mel is crazy.
The Man Without A Face even gains some popularity, by being interviewed by both Matt Lauer on The Today Show and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, as The Beaver, but sinks further into his own illness.
It’s not until his discovers that his son has several post-it notes stuck to his bedroom wall, each one listing a way in which he doesn’t want to be like his father, that Mel wakes up, if only for a moment, and realizes just how much he and The Beaver have destroyed his – and his family’s – life.
Mel calls his wife, presumably to apologize and ask for help, but The Beaver stops him. Realizing just how in control of his life The Beaver really is, Payback tries to get rid of The Beaver by fighting it.
Just to make sure that sinks in all the way, I’m going to repeat the last part of that sentence. He tries to get rid of The Beaver by fighting it.
BY FIGHTING IT.
Now I know the idea of a man fighting himself – or, in this case, a puppet on his own hand – in and of itself is comical. Bruce Campbell fought his hand in the Evil Dead movies and Edward Norton beat himself up multiple times in Fight Club. And both of those films were fantastic and darkly comedic in their own ways.
Let me take this time to remind you that The Beaver is not a comedy. It is a drama about an emotionally unstable man who is a danger to himself and everyone around him. I cannot stress this enough.
So The Beaver kicks his ass.
Mel Gibson is literally rolling around on the floor, hitting his left hand with his right hand. He slams his left hand in the door several times, wrestles it down to the ground, and then – I wish I were making this up – tries to choke it to death with the neck of his son’s guitar. But The Beaver eventually breaks free by smacking Mel with the guitar and then knocks him out by smashing a lamp into his head.
Across town, Mel’s wife, now fearing what he may do, sends their angsty son to go check on him.
When he comes to, The Beaver explains to Mel that he doesn’t need his family anymore, because he –The Beaver — is the only one who truly loves him. Mel, “not wanting to sleep anymore”, tells The Beaver that he wants to build something.
So the pair – Mel and The Beaver – go down to the garage and start cutting and hammering pieces of wood together. Mel tricks The Beaver, as it turns out, because what they ended up building was…
…a beaver-sized coffin.
The beaver tries to talk Mel out of this, but Mel places The Beaver into the coffin anyway, his hand still inside the puppet. Then, instead of simply taking the child’s plush toy off of his hand, Mel switches on the table saw and lowers the garage door.
Fade to black. Mel screams.
Angsty Charlie Bartlett arrives moments later, angered by the fact that he has to confront Mel’s insanity once again, opens the garage door and discovers his father laying on the floor. An ambulance rushes a bloody Mel to the hospital, his left arm removed.
At school, Charlie Bartlett is exposed for writing papers for his classmates and, as a direct result, is turned down by the college he wanted to attend. Dejected, he locks himself in his room and does nothing but sulk and sleep, much like the father at the beginning of the movie that he wanted to be nothing like.
♪ I-rony! ♪
He eventually gets texted a picture of the spot where he and his ladyfriend where arrested for tagging and, when he gets there, he finds the giant mural she spray painted, allegedly in one day. But it’s OK because it’s not graffiti since she covered the entire thirty-foot wall with paper.
She then tells him take it [the massive mural painted on sheets of paper] down and cover his bedroom walls with it so he has the inspiration to write her valedictorian speech for her – remember that dangling plot thread? — which he does, because he is nothing if not a man of his word.
And, also, because he totally wants to hit that.
Charlie Bartlett writes a “deep” and “insightful” speech that revolves around the lie that all adults tell children — “Everything is going to be okay.” – which she reads half of at graduation before abandons it, admitting that she paid someone else to write the speech for her, and then “improvises” a much better speech about the death of her brother and how, even though she misses him dearly, she knows she’ll never be truly be alone. A speech that makes Charlie Bartlett want to reconnect with his dad.
In the end, Mel is given a prosthetic hand – that doesn’t talk to him, by the way – and he apparently decides that all of his depression and SEVERE PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS are stupid and just decides to get back with his wife and kids and be happy.
And let me tell you, as someone who has had to deal with deep depression and psychological issues in his life, it’s just that easy!
The last shot is of the family laughing and riding a roller coaster, which, as we all know, is an extremely subtle metaphor for what the characters have been through in this movie.
OK, so here’s the thing
Is The Beaver a bad movie? Yeah. It kinda is.
Did it have the potential to be a good movie. Honestly? I think so.
Where The Beaver falls flat for me is that it was written a drama, but filmed as some sort of quirky, indie film. I don’t believe that this movie works as a drama. Yes, everything is kind dark and depressing, but you’re not – at least, I wasn’t – given enough to relate to or actually care about these characters at all.
Mel Gibson has few redeeming qualities – both in and out of the movie – and I honestly didn’t care if he got better or not. They didn’t give you a reason to want him to get better other than that would mean the movie was over. Jodie Foster is wooden and pretty one-dimensional as his wife. And the Anton Yelchin/Jennifer Lawrence subplot almost feels like a completely separate movie. Which, I think, would have had more potential as a completely separate movie, frankly.
Had this film been written the way it was directed – as some sort of quirky, indie film – and been injected with a little more humor and humanity, it could have been a decent film. Both Steve Carell and Jim Carey were attached to the lead role of this movie and passed before it was given to Gibson. Think about that for a moment. The Beaver by way or Little Miss Sunshine or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That could have been something watchable.
This was also Gibson’s big return to the screen after several years of controversy. What he really needed was the light-hearted, quirky film this movie could have been, that poked fun at himself and let you like Mel Gibson again. Instead, we received a film about Mel Gibson as a man with severe psychological issues that only reminded you that Mel Gibson is a man with severe psychological issues.