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“The Beaver,” Reviewed

“The Beaver,” Reviewed (photo)

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If you can disassociate yourself from your personal feelings about actor Mel Gibson — a fitting gesture for a film about a man who invents an alternate personality — it’s not hard to admire his performance in Jodie Foster’s new film “The Beaver.” But that’s a pretty big if, since so much of film plays like a meta commentary on Gibson’s personal problems and on Foster’s attempts to support her troubled friend and star. “People seem to love a train wreck when it’s not happening to them,” someone says in “The Beaver,” and it’s a line that applies equally well to Gibson and his role as suicidally depressed family man and toy company CEO Walter Black. “The Beaver” isn’t a train wreck, but it’s not exactly high-speed rail, either.

For reasons “The Beaver” never explains, Walter begins the film lost inside a crippling bout of depression. He’s disconnected from his wife Meredith (Foster) and his two kids, teenaged Porter (Anton Yelchin) and sevenish Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). After Meredith kicks him out of the house, Walter’s throwing some of his crap into a dumpster, where he spots, and then rescues, a ratty beaver puppet. That night, Walter gets drunk and tries to commit suicide. Waking up the next morning a failure, he’s greeted by the puppet, who calls himself The Beaver and speaks to him in a gruff English accent. “I’m sick,” Walter croaks. “Yeah, on that we agree,” The Beaver replies. “The question is: do you want to get better?”

The Beaver’s solution? Let him do the talking (and the thinking) for both of them. Soon The Beaver’s running Walter’s life: playing with his kids, romancing Meredith, even revitalizing his company JerryCo. (whose aural similarity to Jericho, “the lowest permanently inhabited site on earth,” has to be intentional). These scenes play as heartwarming, goofy comedy of the sort you’d expect in any Hollywood movie about a dysfunctional family. It’s only during the third act that The Beaver’s role in Walter’s life begins to change and that “The Beaver” finally begins to take us down some interesting and unexpectedly dark paths. These scenes are the best in the film, the most sharply written by first-time screenwriter Kyle Killen and the most fascinatingly acted by Gibson giving two simultaneous performances as both The Beaver and the real Walter, who is increasingly imprisoned inside his own mind by his wooly life coach.

“The Beaver,” like its protagonist, has a lot of admirable qualities and a lot of problems. It deals seriously with the dangers of depression but it also trivializes the recovery process. It gives “Winter’s Bone” star Jennifer Lawrence a juicy supporting role as Yelchin’s valedictorian-with-attitude love interest, but it totally wastes Foster as Meredith, who is nothing but a blank audience cypher and does nothing but stare at Gibson worriedly the whole time (on a side note, isn’t it odd that the least developed character is the director’s?). It builds up Yelchin as a counterpoint to and commentary on Gibson’s, then uses him to repeatedly enunciate the themes of the movie, namely the shiftiness of identity and the healing power of love. Its climax is bold and risky in a way that few Hollywood movies are, but its denouement feels rushed in a way that suggests reshoot or rewriting were involved. I found myself kind of bored, and not very amused by the early “funny” scenes, and absolutely riveted by the later, sinister ones.

Though Foster’s skill with her actors is self-evident, I think “The Beaver” could have benefitted from a more subversive director, someone willing to find a more even balance between the story’s dark mind and warm heart. There are some inventive shots of the Beaver himself — watch for him to almost literally spring to life just as Walter tries to end his — but I’m not sure I agree with Foster’s decision to keep him out of focus when he’s talking in order to draw our eyes to Gibson, since our brains hear the puppet’s voice and instinctively look at him anyway. When we do, we’re frustrated by the fact that he’s often blurry.

It’s a lame joke, but it fits: I’m of two minds about “The Beaver.” I didn’t laugh much when I was supposed to, but I admired the hell out of the film’s chutzpah. There’s a lot of things I would change: Foster’s character; the film’s heavy-handed score; its overly articulate teenagers and their way of explaining exactly how they’re feeling at any given moment. But I wouldn’t touch anything about Gibson’s performance. It is something to behold. Because Walter is quickly overwhelmed and basically replaced by The Beaver, Gibson has to play him without ever getting to speak as him, communicating his fragile perspective with gestures, facial expressions, and haunted, soul-bearing glances of the sort that cut right through all the crap about the actor’s private life and show you just how much he understands this character’s pain. If the real life Gibson would take a page from Walter and maybe let someone else do the talking for him once in a while, it might not be so hard to appreciate his work, or to separate him from it.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.