DIRECTED BY JODIE FOSTER
STARRING: MEL GIBSON, JODIE FOSTER, ANTON YELCHIN, RILEY THOMAS and JENNIFER LAWRENCE
Jodie Foster gets us to call a full-grown man ‘the Beaver’. It's a woman's wish come true. He’s not just any man, he’s her husband and does a Cockney accent. It’s not thinly-veiled, it’s not suggestive. It’s in your face that you’d barely miss it. It’s in an introduction excessively reminiscent of Alexander Payne’s ‘About Schmidt’ (2002) that we are let into this contextually obvious truth – that he’s not called that for no reason, for he is one. I hope you know what I’m talking about, for if you don’t I’d suggest a look-up in the ‘Urban Dictionary’ – you might uncover some interesting details there, details that could help you encapsulate this disenchanting, stone-washed plain-clothe of a film in the palm of your hand. Not that you’d need that, of course.
There was a time when films literally had to slog to get their premises in. It wasn’t a time too long ago. I’m talking about the Nancy Oliver written ‘Lars and the Real Girl’, which had new-age Cinema’s all-weather man Ryan Gosling talk to a ‘real doll’ to beat his introversion and people found it scandalous. Walter Black (Mel Gibson), here, talks to a Beaver. Of all the nerve, right? Karin and Gus Lindstrom had had a whole lot of explaining to do to the whole of their town before they could legitimize the brother’s condition. Mr. Black gets a shrink-card that he wrote by himself. He’s the CEO of a Toy Manufacturing Firm (he inherits the company from his father and is not qualified for it, self-confessedly) and he finds a Glove-Puppet shaped like a Beaver (the ‘woodchuck’ and not the other one) in the small amount of trash he throws. He’s not a ventriloquist, he just can’t be. His accent's probably the peak point on his CV, so we’re into this job-compromise where he’d speak through the Beaver, but he’d move his lips too. His youngest son Henry is the blonde child who's got nothing to do but play 'cute'. I was struck by how easily he believes in the Beaver, especially when his Dad does such a bad job being one. The wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster) is ‘no questions asked’ before a 'Spiderman' sort of Catch-22, the older son Porter (Anton Yelchin) is quickest with the ‘F’ question. In moments, I felt like asking him one as well.
Porter has a little life on his own – it’s sort of a back story though for the film is obviously about Big Mr. Black and his Beaver. The lad ghost-writes for people, a process that gets him more than enough of an allowance, as well as the advances of the otherwise-impossible Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), valedictorian and pristine cheerleader who wants him to write her graduation speech, something she’s tried 400-odd times without success. The only thing that’d be harder is tying her shoelaces, but no – she’s got a 4.0 GPA, she’d probably even tie the Escher’s knot if you ask her to. But she can’t write her graduation speech, and that’s because that’s the only thing that Porter can. Convenient? He’s the Beaver’s son, remember?
I’ll tell you again why I referred to ‘Lars and the Real Girl’ in contrast to this film. It’s one that actually tried to nurture its premise to development. ‘the Beaver’ is Foster-bred at best. It’s justified, not felt. I’m surprised at how cinema has taken this less-than-favourable stance towards sincerity these days, what with efforts everywhere else. The casting in this film, for instance. Mel Gibson, who's just had to stiffen a wee bit more to fit his role like the puppet on his hand. Jodie Foster who’s played Clarice Starling like, a million years ago. Anton Yelchin, this studio kid in Hollywood that’s in every second teenage film that pokes its head out. Jennifer Lawrence, dear Jennifer Lawrence who was a said disappointment having face-lifted her ‘Winter’s Bone’ with X-Woman Mystique. Wait till you watch her in this film.
This is a film where I was surprised that the people who made it and were in it could take it seriously. I couldn’t. Somewhere along the drawing board, someone drew a Beaver on the Glove-Puppet and someone liked it. Possibly Ms. Foster herself. And I had to watch the film to know it was a bad idea.