A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie about a troubled family (which stars Mel Gibson and was directed by Jodie Foster) is a very strange drama with some comedy elements; it's disturbing in many ways, and while some will find it appalling, others may find it inspiring. A despondent character attempts suicide, and there's a constant, simmering sense of discontent, as well as some moments of fighting and violence. Language includes "s--t," one "f--k," and other words; there's also some teen flirting and minor sex scenes between a husband and a wife. There's one intense scene of drinking, plus prescription drugs and a mention of a teen buying "weed."
What's the story?
Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a business executive and a family man who suffers from crippling depression. His wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), and older son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), eventually give up on him, and he makes a failed attempt at suicide. But then a plush beaver hand puppet he finds in the trash begins "talking" to him and giving him a means to cope. The beaver allows Walter to reconnect with his younger son, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), and helps him succeed at his job. Meanwhile, Porter struggles to break away from his father's influence, using his brains to write black market papers for his fellow high school students, but things go topsy-turvy when pretty valedictorian Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) comes into his life. However, it's not long before everything comes to a head...
Is it any good?
Foster's third movie as a director is nothing if not brave, though what exactly it wants to say and whether it finds the right tone are up for debate. The idea of Gibson -- who, in recent years, has come across in the media as more than a little nutty -- playing a serious character with a talking hand puppet could have been either appealingly outrageous or totally disastrous. But instead the movie comes across as rather safe and sober, with misplaced attempts at humor.
Other characters' reactions to Walter's problem are troublesome, and the media phenomenon behind a successful toy woodcarving kit -- conjured up by the beaver -- rings both totally false and somewhat naive. Oddly, the subplot about Walter's teen son and his quirky relationship with a sad valedictorian is far more compelling than the showier, creepier "beaver" section of the story. Overall, the movie feels like an unbalanced misfire.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the movie portrays family relationships. Is this a typical movie family? Do the characters and their interactions seem believable? Relatable?
At the height of his depression, Walter drinks lots of alcohol. How does it affect him? What are the real-life consequences of drinking?
Did you find the beaver funny or disturbing? Does he help Walter, or does he send Walter down another wrong path?
What do you think the movie's ultimate take-away is? What audience is it intended to appeal to?
- In theaters: May 6, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: August 23, 2011
- Cast: Anton Yelchin, Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson
- Director: Jodie Foster
- Studio: Summit Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.