By Jonathan Decker
REVIEW (GRADE: B) Mel Gibson's much-publicized bad behavior, both alleged and confirmed, of the past five years has been undeniably reprehensible. However, it gives one pause that, at a time when the general public denounces him as racist, homophobic, hypocritically un-Christian, anti-Semitic, violently misogynistic, and pathetically alcoholic, those who know him best and have spoken in defense of his character include a black woman, a lesbian director, a Catholic actor, a Jewish actress, his ex-wife of 25 years, and Hollywood's favorite reformed substance abuser, respectively. The picture that emerges is a convergence of virtue and vice, of good and evil, of a nice man but a mean drunk, a man whose daily conduct displays acceptance and love but whose upbringing filled him with erroneous ideas that emerge in an ugly fashion when alcohol and/or mental illness enter the picture. In short, I will never condone his disgusting actions, but neither am I as anxious to throw him under the bus as some seem to be.
What does this have to do with The Beaver? Well, public distaste for Mel Gibson is such that, even when he admits to wrongdoing in some cases and defends his innocence in others, makes a public apology and fully complies with the legal consequences of his actions, audiences avoided his latest film like the plague. This is a shame, because they missed on a chance to see a masterful actor use his craft to battle his personal demons and, consequently, give one of the greatest performances of his career. Directed by Jodie Foster, The Beaver tries to be both dark comedy and uplifting family drama, succeeding for the most part. It takes a fairly hard-to-swallow premise and injects it with emotional honesty through truly excellent performances by Gibson, Foster, Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men First Class). Gibson plays a depressed man, filled with self-loathing, who finds a new life through a second personality which he channels into a beaver hand-puppet. “The Beaver” allows him to dissociate and be who he wants to be, but alienates him further from his family in the process.
As a family drama and an examination of mental illness the film is painful but moving, balancing compassion with an unwillingness to take easy answers. As a dark comedy it has several belly laughs. In both instances its a terrific showcase for Gibson the actor, who takes a role that possibly nobody else could have pulled off, inviting us to find the humor and humanity in what could have been an unlikable character. The film's chief flaw comes in its lack of sharp focus, meandering somewhat sloppily through various subplots, with a business story thread stretching believability, slowing the film down, and distracting from the potent family drama. This is hardly a deal-breaker, however, for audiences looking to soak up first-class acting.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: The Beaver is rated PG-13. It contains a moderate amount of crude language, including one f-word. A brief montage includes comical sexuality between a man and wife; there is no nudity and the scene serves the story/characters and is not meant to titillating. That said, it is frank and fairly graphic in its implications. The film also portrays issues related to mental illness, including self-mutilation and attempted suicide.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: We are to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and bear one another's burdens to make them light. This is especially true in families where a member suffers from mental illness.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.