Friday, 2 September 2011

“An elaborate mysterious plan, and a little weird – but I like it”

The Beaver: directed by Jodie Foster; written by Kyle Killen

A gimmick is a quirky feature, often superfluous, which makes something standout from its contemporaries – a diversion of sorts, if you will. In a way the eponymous creature looming over Jodie Foster’s The Beaver is a bit of a diversion for at its heart The Beaver is a perceptive look at a family in crisis. The film is set in motion when Meredith, not without love, puts her husband Walter out of their family home. He’s chronically depressed, and like the black hole depression is it threatens to take down every one in sight. A poorly planned and even more terribly executed suicide are thwarted by a hand – but not the hand of God – the hand of Walter in the guise of a puppet beaver who’s arrived to save Walter.
One of the most impressive things about the way Jodie directs the film is also one that’s vaguely puzzling. The more i think on it, the more vividly I could imagine the film functioning as a horror one were the actions of the beaver allowed to personify the tyrannical potential it harbours. Instead she approaches it with a startling amount of sincerity. To the audience watching from an outside perspective the concept seems amazingly bizarre but – for example – in a scene where Meredith and Alter go to bed (with the beaver) there’s a potent tragic quality beneath it. Thus, even though the actual reality of the beaver never loses it peculiarity Foster manages to make us observe Walter without precipitating amusement.
Directors directing themselves either focus on their own characters too much or too little and Foster is clearly one of the latter. Her Meredith seems an especially bare, but she carries it with a beautiful cadence. Her reaction to the puppet is an excellent way to assess everyone else’s perspectives. When she reticently lets the beaver-ed Walter back into the family, it’s not an indication of any significant appreciation for the creature. What Meredith wants is progress and the beaver harbours the potential of being that *thing* which allows Walter to emerge from his black hole. If I can think of any significant shortcoming of the script, it’s the fact that the relationship between the two isn’t examined with more earnest. An anniversary dinner at a restaurant is an excellent platform for Jodie to be heartbreakingly moving while saying nothing.

The dichotomy with which his sons respond poses another interesting facet. I’m not sure if Killen and Foster intend it, but by having the beaver be Walter’s way of communicating it makes me think about the socially acceptable differences between children and adults. The very act of someone using a puppet to speak differently expressing their own thoughts is a bit strange on its own. Yet, a child carousing around with the same antics as Walter would be seen as cute, and Walter’s younger son leaps at the concept with zest. His older son, as one would expect, shies away but the reasons are even more interesting. Anton Yechlin is the older son fearful of becoming his father and even as a significant amount of the film is spent examining a romance which doesn’t ostensibly add to the main plot, it does allow for an innocence in the film which becomes significant as the beaver begins to wreak havoc.

I’ve never loved Jodie Foster as an actor, but I’ve always appreciated her ability to be subtle and it’s the same subtlety she brings to her work as a director. Key scenes of the film play out with the family quartet, or subsets of it, and they manage to pack the punch they need to make the story hit home. It’s an actors’ flick and the cast shines. Ultimately, though, it’s the father/son duo of Gibson and Yechlin who come out shining brightest. As mundane as it should be, an embrace near the film’s end is unusually moving. In the end, The Beaver is unusual just because it’s NOT that unusual. It’s curious wondering where the film is going to take itself, and it’s shocking to think that the conceit of the puppet ends up being a mere ruse for something especially simple. Simple, but not simplistic.



Castor said...

I was a bit disappointed by this movie and for the most part, that was due to Jodie Foster's direction. I thought it was overly simple and straightforward, and her direction was very timid, always aiming for the obvious, middle of the path.

Brandon B. said...

I havent seen the film, and sorry to be so crass, but hearing/reading the phrase "Jodie Foster's Beaver" makes me grin everytime.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

castor i found it less timid, and more placid. it worked for me (obviously, i suppose). i feel that the simplicity was necessary to combat the madness of the premise.

brandon you're excused ;)