May 7, 2011
Watching The Beaver
Watching Jodie Foster's new movie would be an emotionally easier thing to do if Mel Gibson wasn't so amazingly good in it. When I first heard about this movie and watched the trailer, I thought it had to be a joke. The Beaver (?), starring Mel Gibson (?!) as a depressed family man who finds a way back into his life by expressing himself through a puppet (!?!), directed by Jodie Foster (huh???) How did any part of this absurd movie happen?
It's impossible to watch this movie without remembering all the terrible behavior, hateful tirades, and accusations of violence that have led to a tailspin of bad publicity for Mel Gibson. Whatever ongoing psychological crisis he's going through in real life seems an awful lot like what we see on the screen: a very troubled man who doesn't know how to deal with his problems through any socially acceptable methods, so he turns to an alter-ego in the form of a beaver puppet that talks like Ray Winstone. Or, in the real life version, the drinking, abusive spouting, raging bigotry, and "sugar tits". The world thinks both men are insane, but at the same time, we can see that the alternative to this bad behavior is utter self-destruction.
Why Jodie Foster decided to produce this wacky screenplay is anyone's guess, but it's obvious why she chose Mel Gibson to play the lead: because he's phenomenally good, he has real personal understanding of the pain this character lives in, and he's her friend. Foster's promotion of the movie puts her in a tough position of having to defend Mel, the actor, while distancing herself from Mel, the out-of-control asshole. She calls him a good friend while not excusing his behavior. Here's a clip from her interview on Letterman, where she deftly supports him as her star and her friend, while not offering any explanation for all the bad stuff.
The best article I've read about Hollywood's ongoing support for Mel Gibson, in spite of everything, is the Vanity Fair piece from a couple of months ago, "The Rude Warrior". There have been calls for Mel boycotts from powerful studio people, he lost a cameo in The Hangover Part II, and every new piece of news has been bad. Even so, he seems to be one of the most loved people in Hollywood. Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jodie Foster have all defended him in public, and many more producers, directors, and actors have only very positive things to say in the VF article.
Obviously, the guy's got problems. He's an alcoholic (he was going to AA meeting as early as 1989) and seems to turn into another person when he drinks. The scenes in The Beaver of drunken self-destruction are great in a scary, psychotic way. If anything, knowing that Gibson has his own real scary dark side only makes them better. The movie gets darker and stranger as it goes on, taking some gutsy, ugly turns that are definitely not what you'd expect if you've seen the goofy trailer that, strangely, makes the movie look like an oddball sentimental comedy.
There are some missteps, like an uninspired subplot about the older son and his shaky romance with Jennifer Lawrence, and Foster's character is curiously hollow, but what makes the movie compelling is Mel Gibson, who's stopped insulting women and Jews just long enough to turn in a brilliant and subtle performance of probably the weirdest movie role I'll see all year.
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