SXSW Film Festival Day 6: Mel Gibson and 'The Beaver'

Faith Korpi

The Beaver's world premiere at SXSW leaves an audience wondering if they enjoyed it or not.

The Beaver

Director: Jodie Foster
Cast: Mel Gibson, Jennifer Lawrence, Anton Yelchin, Jodie Foster, Riley Thomas Stewart
US Release Date: 2011-05-20

Any of my line-shyness is now gone. At the beginning of the week you have to work for an opening to talk to the person standing next to you in line. Now, with the end of the festival in sight, there’s a level of urgency. What movies haven’t you seen yet? What movies have you seen that were good that I haven’t seen? It’s protocol to now get in line and immediately ask, “So, what’s good?”. No superficial “How are you?” or “Where are you from?”, people just get right to it.

The first film announced in this year’s SXSW film line-up was The Beaver, “that Mel Gibson movie with the puppet” is the popular synopsis. There clearly was a high level of shared trepidation going into this screening on the part of the audience, the press, and even the director/star Jodie Foster.

This was the film’s world premiere and also highly unusual as it was the first time it was screened in front of an audience. Almost every film has test screenings. Foster said she felt like she needed to “keep it safe” until people were ready to see it, and even now she realizes not everyone is ready, or even willing to see it.

This film has an incredible uphill battle to fight to gain an audience. Prior to the premier, everyone I talked to shrugged it off with something like, “Ooh, yeah I’m not seeing that movie”. But I was surprised to see one of the longest lines so far at South By, with all those same folks in a line wrapped twice around the block. At least at SXSW curiosity trumps disgust with the off-screen Mel.

Jodie Foster said in her introduction, “This is not a funny movie”. ‘Twas a fair warning. The actual tone was nowhere near appropriately conveyed via the trailer, which only gives us: Mel Gibson…has a beaver…? Forget what you know and disregard any preconceived notions or prejudices before seeing this film or at least try very hard.

It seemed that only about half the audience was willing to go along on the emotional roller coaster. (Foster’s character in the movie is a roller coaster engineer – a detail I only find funny in hindsight). Mel Gibson’s character, Walter Black, is “deeply depressed”, perhaps even a notch or two more than Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. Things get pretty dark. It’s not that the film doesn’t handle the subject matter well, it’s just that not everyone is going to feel comfortable “working for it” as Foster said was “required”.

The Beaver is not the Mel Gibson one-man show you might have assumed it would be. The eldest son Porter, sublimely played by Anton Yelchin, has a parallel story arc that deals with his struggle to rid himself of all similarities he has with his father (he keeps a sticky-note chart of all 51 traits). And the youngest son, Henry (played by the adorable Riley Thomas Stewart) is a much-needed breath of fresh air. I found myself trying to share the innocent perspective of his character, just so things wouldn’t seem so dismal.

The screenplay for The Beaver, written by Kyle Killen (creator/writer of the TV series Lone Star) was on the Blacklist (the annual list of the best unproduced screenplays) in 2008. Foster said she had read it, decided she wanted to direct it, but there was already a director attached. So she just waited for him to drop out. Though Steve Carell and Jim Carrey were both attached at points to play the lead, Mel Gibson is excellent in the role. Despite how you may feel about Mel Gibson personally, you will be hard pressed to argue that his performance anything short of arresting.

When the credits rolled (and while hearing several deep sobs from the audience around me), two of my “line friends” said, “I think I liked it…”?

It does have to sit with you for a while as it is not an easy movie to swallow. Since the screening, the consensus I’ve heard is split. People really appreciated it (“liked” doesn’t seem to be the appropriate word) or people just “weren’t comfortable with it” but do not deny the film’s quality. This is exactly how I feel about Sam Mendes’s American Beauty (which The Beaver reminded me of the whole way through). I can respect that.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.