Who's In It: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones
The Basics: Depressed toy-company executive Walter Black (Gibson) is at the end of his tether. Estranged from his family and holed up in a hotel room, he almost commits suicide until he's talked out of it by a beaver puppet he found in a dumpster. Now, the only thing keeping Walter alive is a wallop of a personality displacement, as he shuts down entirely and does all his communicating with his wife Meredith (Foster), sons (Yelchin and Riley Thomas Stewart), and co-workers (led by Jones) through the puppet. Everyone loves the new, assertive Walter until it becomes clear that The Beaver has taken him over mind, body, and soul. Can Walter rally enough to take his life back from his buck-toothed alter ego?
What's The Deal: Given the very public nature of Mel Gibson's meltdown and bad behavior in recent years, a movie like The Beaver -- where he gets to play a genuinely damaged but still empathetic individual -- is probably the perfect vehicle for the troubled actor. And while the film flirts with both darkness and narrative craziness, Foster is too buttoned-down a director to make this material crackle and pop the way it should. The result is a script that was probably much weirder and more wonderful that's been tamped down into coloring within the lines in a very safe, staid manner. (There's a potentially interesting high-school romance between term-paper ghost-writer Yelchin and tragedy-stricken cheerleader Lawrence, but it too gets smushed into CW-friendly parameters.)
Our Story, Already in Progress: One big problem with The Beaver is that we don't really get to know much about Walter's life before his descent into depression. When Meredith claims they used to be happy, and he responds that it's all a lie, we don't really know who to believe. And that vagueness makes it unclear who we're supposed to trust and what outcome will actually be a good thing for the characters.
From WHYY in Philadelphia: NPR enthusiasts will be thrilled that Fresh Air host Terry Gross makes a cameo -- and gets one of the film's funniest lines.