Introducing the “The Beaver” March 16 at Austin’s Paramount Theater, director Jodie Foster took a moment to prepare the audience: “It’s not a comedy!”
Based on the audience’s reaction to the film, it’s unclear whether they took her direction. The film’s world premiere was filled with lots of laughter. And despite the film’s premise — a depressed toy-company CEO and father of two speaks through a beaver puppet in order to distance himself from his troubles — the laughter was not a response to the film’s absurd premise.
There were funny moments, but the dramatic bits (SXSW Producer Janet Pierson called them “sensitive but not sentimental”) were also well received.
On stage, Foster wore sunglasses to cover what she described to indieWIRE at an earlier cocktail gathering as “vampire eyes,” the result of a cold she recently endured while wrapping Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” in Paris earlier this week. “I’m not Jack Nicholson,” she told the crowd. “If I took these glasses off, I’d turn you all into vampires or make you throw up.”
The film had a rocky road to production. The script, quirky and unusual, placed at the top of the annual blacklist of unproduced scripts floating around Hollywood. When Foster read it, “I was just hoping that the director [attached to it at the time] would fall through and so I snatched it up when he did.”
The screenwriter, Kyle Killen, said “The screenplay being on the blacklist changed my life and each piece that came after that improved and it couldn’t get any better.” Speaking of his inspiration for making the film, he added, “Many of these self-help books seem big and simple. You just need to do x, y and z and you’ll just get better overnight.” In writing this script, he set out to prove that overcoming problems like these are more difficult than they seem.
After the screening, an audience member asked Foster to follow up on another claim she made when introducing the film: “What did you mean that the film was the biggest struggle of your professional life?”
“It was hard getting the tone right,” she replied. “There are equal elements of darkness and lightness. That’s always the hardest combination… A lot of things beyond our control came in.”
At that point, the audience member asked if she was referring to Mel Gibson. In the months following the wrap of the film, Gibson entered the tabloids with news of a messy breakup and another racist rant. Foster responded, “I feel incredibly grateful to have Mel Gibson’s performance in this movie. I feel he did a great job.” She continued, “He’s the most beloved person in the film industry, at least of the one’s I’ve worked with. Chow Yun-Fat is the second-most beloved.”
Though she admitted that she would not be doing any press to support the film (nor would there be any “fuzzy beaver toys or lunchboxes”), Foster did sum up her feelings on “The Beaver” for the audience. “It’s a personal film,” she said. “It has to do with all of my struggles and all of the things I think about obsessively. We all have these struggles,” she said. “Life is full of these half comedies and half tragedies. Connecting with other people is the one thing that makes this life bearable and that makes the loneliness of our life bearable.”