The Beaver asks us to believe a man can function in society by wearing a beaver puppet on his arm, and talk in its voice. He's not an aspiring ventriloquist. He's just a crazy person.
Crazy people don't fair well in society, I've noticed.
In a normal world, a man wearing a beaver puppet gets committed. He certainly wouldn't triumph as a CEO of a toy company. Or repair the broken wheels of his marriage. And, beyond any human logic or understanding, that's what happens to Walter Black (Mel Gibson). Piece by piece, Walter puts his life back together again -- all with the help of the furry friend on his hand.
Walter starts talking as The Beaver after a depressive episode in which he nearly kills himself -- twice. In his mind, it's either die right here, or live your life vicariously through a puppet you found abandoned in a garbage bin.
We've all been there, right?
By talking as The Beaver, Walter can get through the day. He doesn't have to be himself around his family, or coworkers.
The movie works very hard to make us believe it could happen. There is even a scene where Walter Black goes on the Today Show, and talks to Matt Lauer.
But I think audiences will have a hard time buying it, even with the cameo by Matt Lauer. The deeper we go into the story, the less we can believe.
Like Walter's oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin). He makes money by writing high school papers for his peers. He's so good at sounding like other people, he's paid handsomely to do it. Norah, a senior valedictorian (Jennifer Lawrence) agrees to pay him $500 dollars to write her own graduation speech!
In high school, the only reason that much money changes hands is if there are drugs involved.
Porter also has a problem with his father (naturally), one so big he resorts to writing down his faults on post it notes, then sticks them on his bedroom wall as a daily reminder of the man he refuses to become. In his adolescent angst, he also repeatedly bashes his head against the wall, creating a dent so big he has to cover it up so his parents don't see it.
I'm not sure what's harder to believe. That Porter's parents don't hear him when he cracks his head against the house, or the fact they've never been up to his room and seen the post it notes. Why's he so worried about covering up the dent, then?
Nevermind Walter. The film has its own issues to work out.
Director Jodie Foster, who plays Walter's wife Meredith, decided she would execute the premise with a straight face.
Doesn't she realize that also works for comedies? Very horrifying moments elicited laughter from the audience I was with. Whether it was Walter trying to kill himself, or Porter bashing his head in, people found something funny there.
How to explain it? Maybe the audience was just crazy. Or maybe playing the premise straight was the mistake.
Gibson is very restrained here. You can almost see him begging Jodie to let him run with the part.
One of my favorite scenes is when the story finally moves in a believable direction. Walter tries to talk on the phone with his wife surreptitiously, so the Beaver can't hear. But of course he does. So The Beaver gets angry, and Walter has to hang up.
Suddenly, the film's antagonist comes alive. There's real dramatic excitement. Gibson reacts to the puppet no differently than he would to someone who just kidnapped his daughter. I almost expected Gibson to scream, "Give me back my hand!"
That's when I discovered something. I just didn't understand Walter at all. I didn't understand why he was so depressed (even with the assistance of the narration). I didn't understand why he used the puppet to talk. But once Walter tried to wrestle control of his life back, the film started to make sense. Of course, it was over shortly after that.
But at least that was something I could finally believe.
2 out of 4 beavers.
The Beaver opens in theaters this weekend.
Follow Richard Karpala on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karpala