Movie Review: The Beaver
By Matthew Huntley
May 12, 2011
The reason I call this development uneven is because Porter’s story obviously parallels Walter’s, but we’re not sure why. Is it suggesting that Porter is heading down a path similar to his father’s? Why cross-edit shots of Walter getting ready for work with shots of Porter getting ready for school? Are we supposed to assume depression is hereditary, or is it a hint that at one point Walter did the same things Porter is doing, which might have triggered his current mental state? The connection isn’t clear and doesn’t seem particularly necessary other than to show that Walter and Porter are alike, no matter how much Porter doesn’t want to admit it. He sticks post-its on his bedroom ceiling that list all of Walter’s traits and idiosyncrasies, and whenever Porter finds himself acting like his dad, he literally puts his head through the wall.
This subplot might have worked if it was given more screen time and allowed to make a stronger connection with the rest of the story, but it feels incomplete. This ties in with what I believe to be the film’s biggest flaw: it’s too short. I wanted more from it, particularly scenes devoted to Walter’s family and colleagues examining and questioning his behavior more intently.
They react to his talking through a puppet the way characters in movies do, not the way real people do. Granted, this is a movie, but because it’s so earnest with the way it views depression, why couldn’t it be just as real about the way it sees Walter’s actions? I mean, the guy is talking with a beaver puppet for crying out loud! Don’t you think somebody would speak out a little more and start knocking on his head, saying, “Hello, anybody home?” Everyone just seems too willing to accept it. Were Walter’s past treatments so outrageous that something like a talking beaver seems tame by comparison?
I also found it unbelievable that things changed for Walter so quickly after he started talking with the puppet. Within a day, he’s laughing and having dinner with his family; he’s fixing the faucet; he’s making love with Meredith; and he’s developing a new beaver toy that starts selling out. The film seemed to jump to these points too fast, although I did appreciate that Walter’s treatment was seen as temporary, which is further evidence the film knows what it’s dealing with.
Ultimately, The Beaver earns its emotion and drama, and aside from an artificial shot that shows two characters running off in slow motion, the ending feels right and true. Jodie Foster has crafted an odd story for sure, but it’s odd in a good way. The cast, led by the still versatile Gibson, is strong and committed, and it means something when my biggest complaint about the film is that it doesn’t go on long enough.