The movie has its world premiere tonight at the festival, but at least one festival-goer will be skipping it. Here's why.
When SXSW first announced it was holding the world premiere of The Beaver, there was some talk that its troubled star, Mel Gibson, might appear at the screening. That has since died down, and no one seems to be expecting him tonight, but I suppose there's still a chance he'll show up.
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Not that anyone particularly wants him to. I certainly don't. I'm skipping The Beaver (which was directed by Jodie Foster, who also stars in it, along with Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence) tonight, for the same reasons I suspect others ultimately will whenever it is finally released in theaters. (It's been pushed back again to May. Gibson is reportedly working out a plea deal with the LA district attorney's office on charges of battery against his ex-girlfriend.) The film completed shooting in the fall of 2009. Here's why I'm keeping Beaver out of my festival diet:
1. I Have Something Better To Do.
The placement of The Beaver premiere in the SXSW festival schedule is a bit curious. At this point, almost all of the screenings at the film festival have already had their first or second run, and there are no high-profile premieres left except for music films. In a way, The Beaver was buried, and missed the festival's opening weekend attention that went to films like Source Code, Super, Paul, and Bridesmaids. On top of that, tonight is the opening night of the SXSW music conference, which means there are hundreds of bands playing across town tonight, many of them for free, with gratis food and booze to boot. Right now, for instance, Jack White is playing a pop-up show in front of record store school bus a few blocks away.
And tonight, there are several other films up against The Beaver that I'd rather spend my time with, the first being Attack the Block, an "inner city versus outer space" action adventure that has been getting a lot of praise here at the festival. Another is Michael Stipe presenting a selection of videos that accompany R.E.M.'s new album, Collapse Into Now. Or there's A Year in Mooring, Hesher, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress. Sure. they've all already screened a few times and don't have the star power of Gibson's new film, but ...
2. The Beaver Just Looks Awful.
Even if you don't have something better to do, the trailer for The Beaver might convince you that scrapbooking on a Friday night isn't such a bad thing:
Annoying narration aside (Gibson's character "is a hopelessly depressed individual," the voice tells us, as if the visuals and dialogue hadn't already made it clear), the trailer seems to spell out the entire plot of the film: Man gets depressed. Man loses family. Man finds talking beaver puppet. Beaver puppet sounds like Michael Caine. Beaver puppet leads man to redemption, with some important father/son issues dealt with along the way. I doubt The Beaver is completely terrible. It's got a respected writer, Foster as a director and a lead, and what could be a decent story, even if the trailer seems to give it away. But that story fits in a little too well with Gibson's troubles (excepting the hand puppet part), which leads to the last reason to avoid The Beaver...
3. Mel Gibson Doesn't Deserve My Time, Money, or Sympathy. Yet.
While it's probably wrong to judge the film by its trailer, there is simply too much damning evidence against Gibson for his off-camera behavior not to judge him.
This is an ongoing debate that boils up around people like Phil Spector, Roman Polanski, and Michael Jackson: Can we—and should we—enjoy the art of people who are personally morally reprehensible? If they make amends and try to redeem themselves, I would say yes. But Mel Gibson doesn't seem interested in doing any of that.
It's no surprise that Foster is out in front doing press for the film while Gibson's off working out a plea deal, but it raises the question: If the producers of The Beaver are sure the world is ready to embrace Gibson again, why not have him out doing press for it? Or at least why not send him on a "Contritition Tour," doing Oprah, The View, and most importantly, rehab? Foster, in an interview with Vanity Fair, said that's unlikely to happen: "One of the things I respect about Mel is that he doesn't sell himself out," she said. "He doesn't go on Oprah every five minutes to talk about his life. He doesn't continually apologize, or exploit his rehab. So there's going to be a lot about him that you don't know." Foster also said, this time to the Hollywood Reporter, that Gibson is "so incredibly loving and sensitive, he really is. He is the most loved actor I have ever worked with on a movie. And he's not saintly, and he's got a big mouth, and he'll do gross things your nephew would do. But I knew the minute I met him that I would love him the rest of my life."
Gibson's sins go way beyond "gross things your nephew would do," and I suspect that for the public to let Gibson back in, there's going to have to be more apologizing from him and those around him. Foster isn't really helping in this regard, spending her press interviews feeding a story of how poor Mel had a lamp fall on him during the shooting of the film, when there was no medic around to help him. "When he smacked his head, it just—whoosh!—blood was gushing everywhere," she said in the Hollywood Reporter interview. "I can't tell you how many 'I'm so sorry' notes I sent."
Perhaps it's time Gibson started sending some "I'm so sorry" notes himself, to his family, friends, and at some point the public. And no, The Beaver doesn't count.