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Movie Review: The Beaver

Mel Gibson stars in an honest depiction of depression and its impact

Mel Gibson in The Beaver

Mel Gibson stars in 'The Beaver.' — Courtesy Summit Entertainment

Directed by Jodie Foster
Rated PG-13
Runtime: 91 mins.

En español  |  In less skilled hands, The Beaver could have been a disaster.  The film takes up a thoroughly sober subject—the travails of a middle-aged family man suffering from an unrelenting clinical depression—but, at least initially, gives it a humorous treatment.

After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, toy company executive Walter Black (Mel Gibson) attempts to cope by wearing a beaver hand puppet and communicating through it with family and colleagues (in a Cockney accent to distinguish the beaver’s voice from his own voice). He even takes the beaver to bed with his wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster, who also directs).  In what could have been a maudlin choice, Foster cast her friend Gibson, who has clearly done battle with his own inner demons recently. In early screenings of the film, Foster asked audiences to put aside their personal opinions about Gibson based on tabloid reports they’d read about his private life.  She didn’t need to. Gibson, in one of his best performances ever and perhaps by drawing from deep within, disappears into his character and conveys the authentic heartbreak of mental illness, as well as the resolute joy that comes with beating it—making The Beaver a movie that none of us should ignore.

Foster took up the project after reading the spot-on script by newcomer Kyle Killen. She says that she was struck by both the wit and the starkness of the emotion the story communicated, but also says, “I love exploring the intricate tapestry of family connections.” For while The Beaver zooms in on one individual’s experience of depression, it also conveys a much-too-frequently-overlooked message: The disease impacts everyone around the sufferer, starting with his family. Here, Meredith can barely stand to endure another day of her husband’s gloom, but still she loves him.  Their teenage son Porter, skillfully portrayed by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Terminator Salvation), simultaneously grieves the loss of the father he once knew and resents the genetic ties that connect them. Meanwhile, adorable younger brother Henry, played by Riley Thomas Stewart (you may remember him from the new 90210 TV series), bonds with hid dad’s alter-ego beaver, and they relate happily as never before.

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