The Review/Feature/

Seriously, Though: The Beaver

A series that explores how truly inexplicable films got made

by
May 30, 2016

For some cine-cultists, the greatest discoveries are always at the furthest fringes of the movie landscape. It’s there that they root through the piles of forgotten dreams to find those special few would-be big-screen endeavours that either achieve the awe-inducing ineptitude of a Troll 2 or bear the hallmarks of a true outsider auteur, perhaps one fit for the same deification process that transformed Tommy Wiseau into a mutant hipster god.

But then there are the other movies that deserve their own cults of fervent, spoon-tossing devotees. The difference is that these films hide in plain view. Though they are the handiwork of major filmmakers and major stars, they are rife with the same wrong-headed ideas and stupefying decisions. As beguiling and mysterious as they are, to give them closer scrutiny only yields more perplexing questions. Like, why does it take most of the running time of 2009’s Obsessed for Beyoncé to finally say the line: “I’mma wipe the floor with yo crazy ass!”? Or what’s with Channing Tatum’s ears in 2015’s Jupiter Ascending? Do you have to be Paolo Sorrentino to believe that it’s a good idea to cast Sean Penn as a goth-rocker-turned-Holocaust-avenger in This Must Be the Place? And if you fall into the rabbit hole of Suckerpunch, will you ever land?

In order to make sense of such provocations, we’ve created Seriously, Though as a forum to discuss the weirdest, most WTF of films. If only because of what they reveal about cinema’s enduring value and power as a medium of expressing the things that make us most human. Or not. Seriously, when it comes these movies, it’s anyone’s guess.

CASE FILE NUMBER ONE: THE BEAVER (2011)

WHAT IS IT? An allegory about depression in the form of a comedy-drama about a saddened toy company owner who begins to communicate with his employees and loved ones via the beaver puppet on his left hand. Mel Gibson (Attack Force Z, Lethal Weapon 4) stars as the protagonist Walter Black. Anton Yelchin plays his teenage son and Jennifer Lawrence appears as his high school love interest. The film also marks her first screen performance as Jennifer Lawrence.

WHAT IS IT, REALLY? A misbegotten attempt to rehabilitate Gibson’s career by his Maverick co-star and friend Jodie Foster, who directed the film and plays Walter Black’s wife. (This was the third feature film helmed by Foster after 1991's Little Man Tate and 1995's Home for the Holidays. Only now, with the Cannes-smash Money Monster, has she returned to feature filmmaking.) Gibson's performance suggests he was indifferent to Foster's kind efforts, doing his best impression of Riggs’ suicide attempt in Lethal Weapon, even after Walter's healing has supposedly begun. On the plus side: the production was carbon-neutral.

THE BACKSTORY Screenwriter Kyle Killen, who’d later create the TV series Awake and Mind Games, began writing The Beaver as a novel but realized it was getting too unwieldy when he added a digression that re-imagined Matt Lauer as a big-game hunter. After the script topped the popular Black List in 2008, it attracted interest from directors like David O. Russell and actors such as Steve Carell and Jim Carrey. Foster also pitched herself as star and director with Gibson as the lead. It was a controversial choice since the Australian multi-hyphenate was still toxic in Hollywood three years after the DUI arrest that prompted an anti-Semitic rant and the popularization of the phrase “sugar tits.” Somehow, matters got worse.

Though shot in 2009, the film didn’t surface until March of 2011, when it premiered at SXSW. In the same month, Gibson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor spousal battery charge stemming from much-publicized incidents with his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. (He was later sentenced to three years of probation, community service and counselling.) At SXSW, Foster praised him as “the most beloved actor in the film business.” (Her second place: Chow Yun-Fat.) The court troubles caused the film’s release to be bumped to May. In the interim, the internet was temporarily awash in trailer parodies, including one in which Samuel L. Jackson voices the puppet’s lines. Participant Media gamely tried to use the film’s release as an outreach campaign for mental-health awareness. The Beaver opened in May in limited release – a wider release was cancelled when it only earned an average of $4,890 in its initial release on 22 screens. Foster later blamed the film’s failure on American audiences’ reluctance to embrace it as a dramedy.

FIVE REASONS IT MUST BE SEEN

  1. Because Walter turns his company around when his new friend gives him the idea for a new toy called Mr. Beaver’s Woodchopper Kit, causing a nationwide craze for woodworking.

  2. Because a succession of sex scenes between Gibson and Foster’s characters culminates in a shot of the duo going at it in a steamy shower, the beaver squeaking as it’s smushed against the glass.

  3. Because after Walter gets interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show, he becomes a media sensation, thereby convincing other people to live their lives to the fullest.

  4. Because after the puppet starts going nutso like Sir Anthony Hopkins’ ventriloquist dummy in Magic and starts beating on Walter, our hero makes like Ash in Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and cuts off the offending hand with a table saw.

  5. Because Jennifer Lawrence’s character turns out to be really good at graffiti.

ITS THREE GREATEST MYSTERIES

  1. Why does the voice of Walter’s beaver sound uncannily like that of Ray Winstone?

  2. When Yelchin’s character angrily accuses his father of wearing a “talking hamster,” does he really think that’s what a hamster looks like?

  3. Which band was happiest with Foster’s use of their songs for the film’s two things-are-getting-better montages: Frightened Rabbit or Radiohead?

PROSPECTIVE RITUAL FOR FUTURE MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS

Every time you hear the plaintive sound of a bandoneon in Marcelo Zarvos’ score, drink a Jagerbomb.

THE PART THAT YOU WILL NEVER FORGET NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY

It’s the morning after Walter has a series of slapstick-y suicide attempts that end with him getting knocked out by a falling television in his hotel room. He is coaxed back to consciousness by the thing on his hand, a beaver puppet he’d pulled out of a dumpster the night before. What ensues is an origin-story moment that outdoes anything in the Marvel universe.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/embed/CO-GUvznnZg

Puppet: Wake up! Wake up, you worthless sod. Bloody hell, look at you. Stone drunk and flattened by a television. Quite an obituary you worked out for yourself, eh Walter?

Walter: (looking at hand in horror and confusion) Leave me alone.

Puppet: Nah, nah, nah. Can’t do that. You don’t want that. Because I’m the only what knows how you really feel. Everybody needs a friend, Walter, and you’ve got me. That’s why you read all them useless self-help books. [Unintelligible mock book title], Positive Thinking, How to Win Friends, which one has the chapter about dropping a telly on your head?

Walter: I’m sick.

Puppet: Well, on that we agree. The question is - do you want to get better?

Walter: (pleading) I can’t, I can’t.

Puppet: Yeah, you’re depressed, lethargic, [unintelligible]. Books, pills, they’re cotton candy. You’ve seen too many home improvement shows. You think you can just splash up some paint and rearrange the furniture and everything’ll be alright. You want things to change? I mean, really change? You’ve got to forget about home improvement, Walter. You’ve got to blow up the whole bloody building.

Walter and The Puppet exchange an intense look.

Puppet: WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO, WALTER?!

Walter: (muttering) Blow it up.

Puppet: LOUDER!!

Walter: BLOW IT UP!

Puppet: LOUDER!!!

Walter: BLOW IT UP! BLOW IT THE FUCK UP! BLOW IT UP! BLOW IT UP!

Puppet: Right, too right, mate. You can blow it up and start again.

Walter: (quietly) Who are you?

Puppet: I’m the Beaver, Walter. And I’m here to save your goddamn life.