Jodie Foster's earnest, intermittently droll dramedy about a manic-depressive toy manufacturer and his bewildered family is a parable that's not easily parsed. While she fails to maintain a consistent tone—could there be such a thing as inspirational satire?—the movie's lopsided wobble is undeniably enhanced by her star Mel Gibson—or at least by the baggage he schleps into the proceedings. Walter Black (Gibson) has been diagnosed as "hopelessly depressed," and, once his exasperated wife (Foster) kicks him out of their Westchester digs, he's ineptly suicidal. As he trembles, drunk and disconsolate, on the ledge of his motel roof, the movie's mysterious Cockney-accented voice-over (a ruder version of the gecko that sells insurance on TV) is revealed to be that of his manic self—a ratty hand-puppet discovered in a dumpster that, once it starts talking to him, offers him a means to reinvent himself. Speaking through, even as he hides behind, his furry friend, he returns home. He jogs and showers with the puppet and uses it to address his employees—and even for some hot conjugal sex. Shot in autumn 2009, The Beaver was shelved when the monster from the Gibson id erupted last summer with revelations that he was abusing his girlfriend, and it has returned as something like a celluloid explanation. Thanks to this lurid prequel, The Beaver manages to be both exploitative and humanizing; thanks to Gibson's convincing performance, it goes surprisingly deep into madness before resolving itself in a nimbus of New Age platitudes.
Despite his personal demons, Gibson can still act.
Opens at Egyptian, Fri., May 6. Rated PG-13. 93 minutes.