In the Beaver's persona, Walter is a different man - warm, friendly, energetic and direct. That his family, friends and coworkers are all more-or-less willing to go along with it is something of an intellectual hurdle (he carries a notecard purporting to explain that he is "under the care of a Prescription Puppet"), but then again the film's overall tone doesn't suggest a 100% commitment to realism, unless I'm out of touch and there really are public high schools in America where homework-forgers are subject to cloak-and-dagger legal scrutiny better befitting a cocaine kingpin.

"We worked with a puppeteer. I kept saying to [Mel Gibson] 'the guy doesn't actually know how to use a puppet, you don't have to work so hard at it,' and he's seen all the same Michael Caine movies we've all seen ... but Mel likes to hold on to things like that."
-- Jodie Foster

The puppet is a big hit with the younger son (older son, significantly less so), mom is willing to work with it and the office falls right into line, especially when Mr. Beaver's new toy pitch, a self-inspired kiddie woodshop kit, becomes a Furby-esque phenomenon. Of course, no serious-minded film would actually suggest that enabling a mentally ill man's game of make-believe is a good idea as a long-term fix, (well, Lars & The Real Girl sort of did, but that's a whole other thing) so one doubts that most audiences will be surprised when the prospect of having to get on with life without the Beaver as a crutch takes Walter to even darker places than before. The Beaver is asking a lot of its audience to accept the basic premise, and then asks much more of them come the third act.

"The tone took a long time to get right. I think the script had more of an exaggerated comedy and a more exaggerated drama as well. We had to work on that ... just to try and 'massage' that trajectory. But it does have a weird tone because the concept - the guy with the puppet on his hand - it seems comedic."
-- Jodie Foster

I won't say that The Beaver is an entirely successful film. It's a brave one, using the gag of the puppet as a reason to go further into the unpleasant realities of clinical depression rather than to skirt them, and it's extremely well acted. But the four main running plotlines - Walter & Beaver, Walter, Beaver & Wife, "Mr. Beaver Woodchop Kit" as a satire of consumer phenomena, and the older son's complicated high school romance - don't fully coalesce with one another by the time it wraps up. And yes, it must be said, I can't begrudge audiences for being unable to separate Mel Gibson's increasingly horrible public persona from his onscreen characters.

Nonetheless, The Beaver remains an interesting film quite unlike anything else being released right now. That alone, for me, makes it at least worth a look.

"The thing about directing is ... you get to have this piece of film that says 'this is what I love. This is what I believe in.'"

-- Jodie Foster

The Beaver opens in select theaters the U.S. today, May 6th. The trailer for the film can be viewed here.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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