F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 23, 2012)

23 11 2012

It really is a shame that Mel Gibson had to go off the deep end right before the release of “The Beaver.”  The movie is a deeply powerful examination of family and interpersonal dynamics in the wake of an increasingly isolating digital world.  However, if you’ve watched E! any time over the last few years, you’ve no doubt become aware that Gibson isn’t exactly in his right mind all the time.  Thus, they were successfully able to sell Jodie Foster’s excellent film to the public as “that crazy Mel Gibson movie where he talks with a beaver puppet” as if it were autobiographical.

“The Beaver” isn’t the story of Mel Gibson; it’s the story of all of us who ever disappear into our screens at the expense of human connection.  For that reason, it’s my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  It cracked my top 10 last year, and the more I think on the film, the more pleased I am that I went out on a limb for it.  I think in a few years, when all the tabloids quit running their sensational stories on Gibson, there will be a massive critical reevaluation of “The Beaver.”  And I will be proud to have been a supporter since I first saw the film at an early morning showtime in May 2011.

The titular beaver puppet is actually not a product of the insanity of Walter Black, Gibson’s character.  Well, at least not in the sense that TMZ tries to paint him as insane.  Walter’s been asleep at the wheel for years, failing as a parent and husband.  After a severe bout with depression, he discovers the beaver puppet and begins living vicariously through it.  The beaver becomes a psychological distancing mechanism, allowing Walter to separate himself from the guilt of past deeds that weighs down on him like a rock.

What director Jodie Foster and writer Kyle Killen explore in “The Beaver” with such dexterity is how each of the other characters have their own beavers, so to speak.  Each erect false facades designed to convey a persona that does not match the person underneath.  Walter’s son, Anton Yelchin’s Porter, is trying to project that he is the polar opposite of his dad.  Yet in his evasion, he becomes even further disengaged from his family and increasingly abrasive – the very traits that precipitated his beaver crisis.

There’s also Jennifer Lawrence’s Norah, Porter’s high school classmate who is by all means considered to be the paradigmatic girl of their class.  Yet she’s struggling with dark issues of grief behind closed doors, and she is even willing to pay Porter to write a big speech for her to hide it from others.  While their unconventional romance is a subplot to the larger arc of the 90 minutes of “The Beaver,” it makes a big impact because Yelchin and Lawrence act from such a dark recess of their souls.  They manage what many actors twice their age cannot, a connection on both an intellectual and an emotional level.

So get over Mel Gibson, sit down with an open mind, and watch “The Beaver.”  If you are willing to really think, you’ll find some very interesting questions being raised.  What are the beavers in our life that keep us from loving others?  Jodie Foster shows you those of Walter, Porter, and Norah to devastating effect; it’s up to you to figure out your own.





REVIEW: Like Crazy

6 03 2012

An indie movie for people that hate indie movies, “Like Crazy” aims for the lowest common denominator at all times by stretching the star-crossed lover formula to the edges of watchability.  Writer/director Drake Doremus really tests his audience’s patience by asking them to sympathize with two characters who spend 90 minutes complaining about a dilemma caused by their own willful negligence of the law.  You would think that only in a fantasy universe do actions not have consequences, but the reality of the film expects to defy the logic of reality.

The entire film hinges on the notion that we are supposed to somehow blame the government for the rift in the relationship of young lovers Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) when it is clearly their fault.  Only two morons would really believe that she could just overstay her visa in the United States and not face any ramifications.  Just because they are “in love,” as they see but we don’t, does not mean that immigration officials will simply deny the fact that she broke the law.  I guess such is the independent spirit of upper-class educated hipsters, believing everyone to be below them and thus only there to serve their peculiarities and desires.

Maybe it would be easier to forgive the two idiotic protagonists if they actually had some chemistry; Yelchin and Jones have as much heat as an industrial-strength freezer.  Their relationship begins almost on a whim, continues due mostly to carnal passion, and subsequently fades because an ocean separates them as they are forcibly split by the government.  Tell me where I’m supposed to root for anyone in this story, not to mention the actors make their characters surly, grumpy, and generally unpleasant.  They’re kind of like the grouches you really hope aren’t making your coffee at Starbucks in the morning.

Really, if Doremus wanted the audience to care at all about such stupid characters, he had to give them something to work with.  Instead, he gives us nothing, and it’s all too easy to resist the story and whatever it might have to say about love.  “Like Crazy” had the opportunity to really say something about connectivity and modernity, yet it settles to just be two attractive twenty-somethings moping about having to take responsibility for their actions.  Welcome to adulthood, kids.  C+