There was a time when I was absolutely convinced that Jodie Foster was the future of U.S. cinema. In 1991, she starred in The Silence of the Lambs, giving a riveting performance as Clarice Starling that justly earned her an Academy Award, her second Best Actress win in the span of three years. That same year, she delivered her directorial debut in Little Man Tate, an imperfect but insightful drama about precocious talent that benefited from the sense Foster was drawing on her own experience as a child actor who could somehow slip comfortably between a loopy Disney comedy and a bleak Martin Scorsese masterwork, released within weeks of one another. As a general aspiration toward quality was evaporating as a concern for major studios, Foster seemed to be one of the dwindling number of performers who was committed to smart, serious fare, and had both the talent and the clout to see that commitment through.
All that starry-eyed belief now seems like it happened so very long ago. Watching The Beaver, Foster’s third directorial effort, is like encountering a feature made by someone who’s never seen an actual movie, but has had them described to her by genial cinema novices who’ve recently taken a couple thick blows to the head. It has the loose structure of cinematic narrative and all the pieces that make up a film, but it’s as flimsy and unimpressive as necklace made of rust-dusted paperclips strung together.
Kyle Killen’s bizarre script follows a toy company’s depressed CEO (Mel Gibson) as he’s approaching the nadir of his spiral. As he’s about to take a fresh crack at offing himself, the emotionally ravaged is interrupted by the battered beaver puppet he earlier retrieved from the trash. The beaver begins talking to him, and, in no time at all, becomes essentially the only way the man communicated with others, whether it’s his family or the fretful employees at his plaything plant. Though this triggers some initial furrowed brows, everyone adapts briskly, as casually as celebrities guesting on Sesame Street.
Presumably this material is meant to have a fable-like quality, or maybe play like joshing satire, finessing the ludicrous until it becomes enticingly sublime. Instead, Foster renders it with outright indifference, presenting the material plainly. As plot points click off with the numbed dependability of daily hashmarks scratched into a jail cell wall, the film morphs into some perverse challenge to the viewer. Go ahead, it says, react with disbelief. No one really cares. Nothing matters. It’s the nihilism that initially haunts the character hiccupped out as privileged distance from the real challenges of a pained existence.
I lasted for approximately 39 minutes of the film’s 91-minute running time.
Previously in The Unwatchables…
— Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, directed by Michael Bay
— Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton
— Due Date, directed by Todd Phillips
— Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder
— Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
— After Earth, directed by M. Night Shyamalan