Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is deeply depressed — so much so that his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) has thrown him out of their house. Things look so bad for Walter that he contemplates suicide. But a friend implores him to give life another try.

Who is this friend? An old college buddy? A stranger who takes pity on a man who clearly needs a shoulder to cry on? Not even close. It's a hand puppet, in the shape of a beaver, who speaks in a Cockney accent and is more demanding than a drill sergeant.

The odd thing is, the puppet offers excellent advice — helping Walter turn his failing company around, and getting him back on Meredith's good side.

But the beaver can't handle everything. Walter's alienated son Porter (Anton Yelchin) has no use for his father's delusional behavior but is definitely interested in getting closer to his high school classmate Norah (Jennifer Lawrence).

Although "The Beaver" has its funny moments, it's not a comedy. Working from a screenplay by Kyle Killen, Foster — who also directed — delivers a poignant family drama while eliciting one of Gibson's best performances. As a director, she's come a long way since "Little Man Tate" (1991), and her latest effort bodes well for her career behind the camera.

The presence of Gibson, who's had plenty of bad publicity in recent years, may prevent some people from seeing the film. But his baggage only makes it easier for us to identify with Walter's spiritual woes. Gibson really throws himself into the part, bringing an intense scariness to his conversations with the puppet.

Unfortunately, the film spends way too much time on Porter and Norah, whose storyline comes across as relatively trivial.

"The Beaver" isn't a perfect film, but it's challenging and original.


"The Beaver"

Three stars (out of four) • Rating PG-13 • Run time 1:30 • Content Mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference