The Beaver is a movie that badly wants to send a message about mental illness, but does not quite pull it off.
Walter (Mel Gibson) is a clinically depressed business man, husband and father. His wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) runs out of patience being an understanding wife, living next to a wretched shell of a man. Their teenage son Porter (Anton Yelchin) makes it his mission trying not to be like his father. Walter has sunken so deeply into his dark world, he has destroyed his family and he is about to lose his business. By chance, he finds a shabby puppet of a beaver in a dumpster. It catches his eye, and when he later puts it on, it starts talking to him. There appears, in the form of the beaver, the healthy, creative, loving Walter. The beaver talks sense to Walter, and it starts doing the communicating with his family, eventually his business and the larger world around them. Walter gets to “relax” in the shadows of his self while the beaver does the living for him.
This works to an extent, except his son thinks he is a nutcase and his wife thinks after a few weeks this should be over. But it’s not that easy.
This film, directed by Jodie Foster, appears to want to draw attention to depression as a mental illness. However, the movie is ill-constructed and while some of the parts might work standing alone, the whole does not quite come together. There is an entire subplot involving Porter, Walter’s son, who sells essay-writing services to his classmates, and in the process starts a teenage relationship with the class valedictorian. While interesting in itself, it does not quite connect with Walter and his issues and only peripherally touches the plot.
Watching The Beaver, therefore, is somewhat boring, and, should I say, depressing. A movie about mental illness has to find a way to inspire and uplift, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or The Awakening. Nothing like this happens here.
Eventually, after running too long, the movie is over. I say to myself: Yes, depression sucks.
But I didn’t need to spend 91 minutes watching The Beaver to know that.