We’re only minutes into the film when Gibson’s depressed and suicidal Walter Black permanently attaches a furry beaver to his hand and starts awkwardly to claw back his doomed relationship with his wife (Foster) and two sons, Porter (Anton Yelchin), who’s about to finish high school, and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), who’s a fair bit younger and the only family member fully tolerant of Walter’s bizarre behaviour.
Walter and the beaver take showers together, jog together and make love to his wife together. Most importantly, Walter only speaks through the beaver, and the puppet is even there when Walter goes on America’s Today programme to talk about the success of a new range of DIY beaver kits he’s selling via his ailing toy company. To voice the beaver, Gibson adopts a dreadful cor-blimey British accent with hints of Aussie: he sounds like Michael Caine after a long break in Sydney. Meanwhile, in a parallel story strand, Walter’s resentful son, Porter, who sells essays to fellow students, is developing an on-off friendship with Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), a classmate who masks her own problems behind beauty and success.
There are funny moments when the beaver is first introduced and Walter tries to pass it off as a legitimate form of therapy (‘It’s very big in Sweden’). But the film soon becomes tiresome and laboured. Neither Foster nor screenwriter Kyle Killen can resolve the gulf between the seriousness of depression and family breakdown and the ridiculousness of Walter’s adoption of his furry proxy. Instead, Foster just moves clumsily between two tones, comic and serious, without finding a satisfactory meeting of the two. Foster herself is sidelined and underused as Walter’s wife, and the secondary plot involving Walter’s son comes across more like a distracting red herring than a successful secondary illustration of the film’s wishy-washy themes of honesty, open expression and harmony.
Rather than inspiring anything more biting, comic or clever, Gibson’s upstaging co-star, the puppet, ends up being a catalyst for sentimental family reconstruction and big hugs all round. Beyond the initial idea, this is kid gloves filmmaking, when what we need is a bit more of the gloves-off stuff.