There may be a movie that could save Mel Gibson’s career, but this ain’t it. Never mind the premise. The Beaver is flawed from top to bottom because there isn’t a single scene you believe. Every metaphor in the script is leaden; every possibility of black humour is ignored. The family at the centre are a bad writer’s idea of a family. And no homily is rejected as being too corny or undeserved. Frankly, I wanted to flog screenwriter Kyle Killen with that damn glove-puppet. His writing has about as much truth as an anti-aging commercial. Make no mistake: this is a shallow precocious screenplay. It’s all hat and no cattle, as the saying goes. Like a bad ventriloquist, all you can hear is a lack of talent talking at you.
Mel Gibson tries to hang himself about five minutes into the film. He saws off his hand about an hour later. But it’s all to no avail. He’s stuck with the role of Walter Black, a manically depressed toy company executive, with a loyal wife played by Jodie Foster, and two gifted young actors (Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence) snapping at his heels. Mel should be in a black comedy, maybe even a Billy Wilder film. But sadly, all the rich comic potential of his situation is set to be squandered. He stars in a sober little drama. The fact he chooses to talk through the titular puppet will be handled with kid gloves. No-one is going to react like a human being to him, or say anything that might risk making him look like a fool.
He’s on the cross, again, you see. Mel Gibson is never very far from self-flagellation. So he must walk dourly through the film, rending his shirt and gnashing his teeth. Everyone must understand his pain, and we must all pay homage to the supreme sacrifice Mel Gibson is making, starring in this indie movie which sorta-kinda mirrors his real-life… only without the hair-raising profanity of the real Mel, or the air of danger that made him a star. He will not call anyone “sugar tits”. He will not threaten Biblical vengeance on his estranged spouse. In short, he will not unleash the terrible charisma of the real Mel Gibson, the Ozymandias of Hollywood. Instead, he will play a gutless version of himself. And it’s a shame, because Mel is more than ready to Go There. With the right script, we could have been left stunned. But this is Mel saying Kyle Killen’s lines. The man Mel’s playing is a milquetoast compared to the movie star.
God bless Jodie Foster for sticking by her friend. She’s a pretty workmanlike director, but she knows the meaning of the word “pals”. The Beaver is Jodie’s way of taking in a friend, like a housewife giving soup to a hobo. It’s a movie designed like a Get Well Soon card, where all the real feeling lies in the act of sending it, not the sentimental crap that comes pre-printed on the inside. Jodie’s role as the loyal wife is about as meaty as an envelope, but she still commits to it valiantly. Why “valiantly” (you ask)? She has sex on-screen with Mel, even when he wears the glove-puppet to bed. If there was an Oscar for going the extra mile, she’d win it, hands down. But again, the script isn’t as interesting as Jodie and Mel.
Kyle Killen generated a lot of buzz when his script made it onto The Blacklist (an annual inventory of the hottest unproduced screenplays in Hollywood), but God knows why, on the evidence of The Beaver. Perhaps the script was altered radically during production, but my gut says: this was always a classic box-ticking turd. The main plot and the subplot are set out so a pre-schooler could see the connection. Glib wisdom hollers at you in every scene. All the cast learn a valuable lesson. No-one escapes without a hug. What should be a prickly comedy about a rich man’s mid-life crisis – full of bile and pent-up rage – is made into a sudsy family saga. Even when Mel saws his hand off, you know he’s going to be “healed”.
I didn’t care for this movie, but I do have sympathy for Mel Gibson. He’s the Dick Nixon of Hollywood these days, reviled and defeated and stripped of his power. Once, he was a sex symbol. Now, he’s a cautionary tale. He’s the “king of kings” from Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias, with “a shattered visage” and “sneer of cold command”, who bids us: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” There’s something so goddamn wounded about Mel Gibson, it’s like seeing a lion weep. Yes, he did it to himself. Yes, he’s a paranoid, self-loathing monster. But he’s also holding a mirror up to Hollywood. He deserves a better movie than The Beaver. He deserves an all-male remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?