‘The Beaver’: The Reviews Are In!

Critics find it difficult to separate Mel Gibson's personal life from troubled character.

After release date changes and several other unrelated misfortunes, “The Beaver” is finally bowing in New York City and Los Angeles, with other cities to follow May 20. Starring Mel Gibson, Anton Yelchin, Jodie Foster (who also directed) and Jennifer Lawrence (in a supporting role), the film revolves around Walter Black, a once stellar CEO suffering from severe depression, until he discovers a Beaver puppet he uses as a therapeutic tool to help him reclaim his former self.

So what do the critics think? Of the 70-plus reviews up on Rotten Tomatoes, 51 deemed it “fresh,” giving it a 70 percent fresh rating. The most interesting aspect is how each reviewer chooses to address the subject of the “Gibson drama.”

The Story
” ‘The Beaver’ is almost successful, despite the premise of its screenplay, which I was simply unable to accept. I concede it is possible that a man in depression might be able to heal himself by projecting his personality into a hand puppet. I am not sure it is possible, or even advisable, to make a serious movie about that. We go through the movie with Mel Gibson wearing a toothy beaver on his left hand, and that creates a whole lot of disbelief for us to suspend. — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

The Performances
“So what’s to recommend in ‘The Beaver’? First but not least, Jennifer Lawrence playing Norah. I wish this hadn’t been her first released film since ‘Winter’s Bone’; the role doesn’t deserve her. Still, she fills every moment of it — even a manipulative graduation speech — with warmth and graceful intelligence. Then there’s the man to the right of the puppet, by turns tortured, morose, animated or charming. When I first met Mel Gibson in Sydney almost 35 years ago, he was a handsome young actor with an open face, a winning smile, an abundant gift and a bright future, although no one could have imagined the extent of his success, or the depth of his fall. The gift remains.” — Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

Tiptoeing Around the Gibson Drama
“As someone observes in the movie, ‘People love a train wreck when it’s not happening to them.’ How strange that this movie should seem to be commenting on Gibson himself, when it was filmed before his recent public scandals. Further, how strange that the movie should seem like an apology, recorded in advance — or that we should feel like accepting the apology, when we weren’t the ones who were wronged.” — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

“I know I shouldn’t allow my feelings about a performer in ‘real life’ to affect my view of him or her on film, but that’s like a judge telling a jury to ignore damning evidence they’ve already heard. Gibson has always excelled at playing men on the edge — apparently for good reason — and this part takes that to an extreme, a place he’s perfectly willing to go.” — Leonard Maltin, for IndieWire

The Director
“Foster clearly knows she’s telling a very messy, unmanageable story. The puppet seems to know it too: Sometimes its face looks cute and cheerful; other times, you catch a demented gleam in its eyes. Foster has crept out on a limb here, showing us a grown-up human being who’s in terrible pain, and for whom there are no easy answers. And if ‘The Beaver’ isn’t as effective as it ought to be, at least there’s integrity in Foster’s approach. She doesn’t work the movie like a puppet; she lets it speak for itself.” — Stephanie Zacharek, MovieLine

The Final Word, Pro-Con-Pro Style
“It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Gibson, with his wounded gaze and eloquent variations of posture, bringing such resonance to this character. At one point Walter says, ‘People seem to love a train wreck, as long as it’s not them’ — and the real-life overtone is unmistakable. The redemption the movie most strongly suggests is Mel Gibson’s own.” — Kurt Loder, Reason.com

“Maybe Ms. Foster thought she was doing Mr. Gibson a favor by showing that he could play a troubled man who simply needs help. The problem is that, as an actor, Mr. Gibson doesn’t do normal anymore and is at his best playing men on the verge, as in ‘Edge of Darkness,’ a thriller about a cop hunting his daughter’s murderer. It was a suitably blunt character for an actor who has become a blunt instrument and has a lock on loony tuners and angry patriarchs. That should make Walter a fine fit for Mr. Gibson, except that there’s no there there to the character, just a puppet with a bad attitude and good timing. A raggedy rage-aholic, it steals the show, handily. Take away his puppet, and the man disappears.” — Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“Foster merits praise for putting her energy into a movie about mental illness that goes beyond the slickness of ‘As Good as It Gets,’ in which a happy ending can be spun from a patient’s mere promise to take his medication. There is one element of ‘The Beaver’ that does reflect a Hollywood sensibility: Walter’s breakdown never threatens the family financially. The narrative would have more tension if they didn’t appear so comfortably padded in a Nancy Meyers-like milieu. (Meyers directed Gibson in 2000′s ‘What Women Want,’ a feel-good movie that now seems very far in his past.) But despite that and the ludicrousness of the puppet prop, ‘The Beaver’ is serious about portraying mental illness. And whatever your opinion about Gibson the man, so is Gibson the actor.” — Mary Pols, Time

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Beaver.”

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