The Beaver: Jodie Foster’s Enduring Relationship With the Insane

May 11, 2011


My attitude toward Foster finally changed while watching Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2004 WWI drama Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement). Jodie suddenly pops up in a high-impact supporting role, speaking”€”as far as I could tell”€”impeccable French. (Foster was valedictorian of Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles.) It’s almost unheard of for an American star to risk humiliation by attempting a role in a foreign-language film. Yet the normally boyish Foster threw herself into the role of a French woman lustily trying to conceive (the old-fashioned way).

In The Beaver, Gibson plays an executive who inherited the family toy company after his depressive father committed suicide. He has become catatonically depressed, too, which appalls his older son, who fears inheriting the illness.

Kyle Killen’s screenplay asks the unpopular question: “€œTo what extent can people change?”€ Therapy, books, and pills haven”€™t helped the businessman. His longsuffering wife, an engineer who designs (metaphor alert!) roller coasters, is played by the normally boyish Foster in one of her most womanly and endearingly ordinary performances. She finally tosses Mel out, so he tries to hang himself from his hotel room’s shower curtain rod. Unsurprisingly, this doesn”€™t work.

More bizarrely, he returns home in a chipper mood, with a large brown beaver puppet on his left hand that offers him good advice about getting a grip on himself.

Mel’s younger son is overjoyed by how much more fun dad (and/or his furry new friend) is. But Jodie’s character is freaked out when he gives her a card that reads, “€œHello, the person who handed you this card is under the care of a prescription puppet….”€ (Some psychotherapists actually do use puppet therapy with children, but nobody tells grown men to speak only via a puppet with a Michael Caine accent.)

The Beaver‘s acting and screenplay are better than last year’s hysterical Oscar winner The Black Swan, but the score isn”€™t by Tchaikovsky. Cherry Jones, a lesbian activist actress, drags down every scene she’s in. And Foster doesn”€™t quite have the directing chops to make us wonder whether Mel’s manic spell after he becomes a national celebrity isn”€™t all in his head.

Still, Jodie’s performance in the marital sex scenes is remarkably ardent. That’s some damn fine acting!


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