Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a man teetering on the edge of life thanks to his soul-destroying, all-consuming depression. It looks as if he had it all, the loving family, the large house with the pool for them to live in, the steady job as the head of a toy manufacturers, it should all be perfect and he should be content with it, but the fact remains while he has everything a middle-aged man should want, it still is not enough. So as he moves out of the house after his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) cannot stand him anymore, it seems to be the end for Walter...
But then something strange happens, and that's what offered the film its title and its gimmick. The Beaver is a hand puppet he finds in a dumpster; it stirs something in him and he takes it back to the hotel room he is staying in, puts it on his hand and begins going through with his drunken suicide. That doesn't prove successful, indeed he ends up lying on the floor knocked out by the television, but on coming round the puppet talks to him and makes him snap out of his depression. Well, sort of, he's not exactly cured, but with a new friend at the end of his arm he now has the confidence to take life on.
Essentially what The Beaver was turned out to be an examination of depression with an eccentric framing, as nobody would have wanted to see Gibson lying in bed for an hour and a half of the running time, or if they did they'd be better off without this. Unfortunately for the movie, the way things worked out nobody really wanted see Gibson at all once the revelations about the breakdown of his relationship with his girlfriend hit the headlines, depicting him as a violent and racist and just plain objectionable human being. Nobody's perfect, of course, but these reports could not have come at a worse time for his latest film.
In particular a film that sounded as if it was a tough sell anyway: this was not a comedy exactly, as while there were silly elements that hinted towards humour, director Foster played Kyle Killen's script very straightfaced for much of it. This in spite of Gibson putting on a voice for the puppet which was either an impression of Ray Winstone or Michael Caine, depending on who you spoke to, yet even that was not as goofy as it could have been, sex scene included. The toy makes his life better in the short term, but as with movies where such things take a large part of the plot, in the long term it's not exactly healthy, in the style of any number of big screen ventriloquist dummies old and new.
What this most resembled, for much of the time at least, was one of those mid-life crisis dramas which became fashionable thanks to American Beauty winning those Oscars, though curiously The Beaver grew both hard to believe as Walter becomes a celebrity as the company boss with the self-help puppet, and unshowy as the tone is kept muted, as if Foster wanted us musing throughout over the implications of what was going on. Walter's family make up part of the story too, with most of the subplots going to his elder son Porter (Anton Yelchin), who is juggling writing essay cheats for money and awkwardly romancing classmate Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), both of them close to the kind of mental illness Walter is suffering, but perhaps young enough to head it off at the pass before it envelopes their lifetimes. Achingly sincere about its issues, the film did invite the audience to regard a common problem in a new light, but the fact remained it wasn't successful being more morose than quirky with its platitudes sounding regrettably hollow. Music by Marcelo Zarvos.