We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Troubled Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is going off the deep end until he learns to communicate using a hand puppet. Jodie Foster also stars and directs.
Truly an oddity for our times, The Beaver tells the story of a man (Mel Gibson) so chronically depressed he feels he cannot communicate directly with anyone around him. He is estranged from his wife (Jodie Foster) and his elder son (Anton Yelchin) and cackhandedly attempts to hang himself, but can't even get that right.
Then he finds a mouldy old puppet in a dumpster and from then on, using the puppet to communicate, finds renewed career success, mends his marriage and at least for a while seems to be able to function in society. It's the old story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy meets puppet, boy has sex with girl while wearing puppet, boy gets girl back again.
As a narrative, it rates similarly high on the quirk-o-meter to films like Lars And The Real Girl, Little Miss Sunshine or Mozart And The Whale, and yet it feels more outlandish. This is of course in huge part down the casting of Mel Gibson in the lead role. A star of that size, even when that star is tarnished, pulls focus from the rest of the ensemble. It doesn't help that other plotlines are a little quirk-by-numbers. Yelchin's bright but angsty teen makes money by forging essays for other students, something he pulls off by studying them like a method actor to learn their style. But we can't seem to care because hanging over the film is the spectre of Gibson - we're just waiting for his next scene, and not because he's especially compelling in the role, but because he's Mel Gibson.
In The Beaver's favour, it offers an experience unlike anything else you've seen, but despite that, it's not a very involving experience. Leaving Gibson's much-publicised extra-curricular troubles out of the equation entirely, this is still not particularly a character that we root for, despite the obvious sympathetic touchstone of a father shut out of his children's lives, and that's a problem for a film that, despite its outlandish premise, is at its heart a character study.
Essential viewing for film students because it's unsuccessful in a genuinely unusual way, this is somewhat tedious once the initial novelty of seeing Mel Gibson talk using a beaver puppet has worn off. Oh, did we mention he does so in a Cockney accent? Would you Adam and Eve it.
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