- - Thursday, May 5, 2011

Jodie Foster’s latest film will surely challenge American audiences, and not just because it stars Mel Gibson and a beaver hand puppet.

“The Beaver” centers on Walter Black (Mel Gibson), a chronically depressed family man who tries to reconnect with his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) and two children (Anton Yelchin and Riley Thomas Stewart) by communicating through a beaver hand puppet. Sounds like the perfect role for Mel Gibson, right? Walter’s self-prescribed puppet treatment is initially successful - the puppet even helps him save his failing toy business. But Walter eventually becomes the subject of unwanted media scrutiny, which triggers a sudden and heart wrenching relapse in his recovery.

“The Beaver” is a peculiar hybrid, the likes of which we have not seen in quite some time. In terms of the film’s challenging mix of drama and dark humor, “Cyrus” (2010) certainly comes to mind, but then again, Mel Gibson having intimate moments with Jodie Foster whilst donning a beaver hand puppet sort of puts this movie in its own category. We’re not even sure what this category is.

Mr. Gibson’s ventriloquist act is remarkably convincing. Although initially bewildering, the talkative beaver puppet is quickly assimilated into the texture of the film, a supporting actor and narrator. And when Mr. Gibson has violent arguments with the puppet, you almost forget that he’s talking to himself. Perhaps that is the film’s greatest success: making the absurd appear conventional.

When you get past the “The Beaver’s” copious absurdities, Walter’s struggle with “curing” his depression is both relatable and relevant in our heavily medicated society. Miss Foster has bravely taken on an illusion widespread in this persistently optimistic nation of ours: the comforting fantasy that a few self-help books and a bottle of Prozac are a panacea for all of our problems.

If you’re prudish about unconventional, dialog-heavy drama rich in character development, “The Beaver” is definitely not for you. But if you can digest the film’s absurd premise, Miss Foster has given us a curious, satisfying drama about the American family.

TITLE: “The Beaver”

CREDITS: Directed by Jodie Foster; written by Kyle Killen

RATING: PG-13, for language and a few awkward, intimate moments

RUNNING TIME: 91 Min

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS