Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a depressed CEO of Jerry Co., a toy company nearing bankruptcy. He is kicked out by his wife (Jodie Foster), to the relief of their elder son Porter (Anton Yelchin). Walter moves into a hotel. After unsuccessful suicide attempts, he develops an alternate personality represented by a beaver hand puppet found in the trash. He wears the puppet constantly, communicating solely by speaking as the beaver, helping him to recover. He reestablishes a bond with his younger son Henry and then with his wife, although not with Porter. He also becomes successful again at work by creating a line of Mr. Beaver Building Kits for kids.
Porter, who gets paid to write papers for schoolmates, is asked by Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) to write her graduation speech. He gets emotionally attached to Norah but his father's actions with the beaver puppet embarrass him.
Walter's wife moves out of the house with the children, because he lied to her about the puppet being part of a treatment plan monitored by his psychiatrist. She feels she can no longer communicate with her husband and that he is suffering from a dissociative identity disorder, with the beaver taking him over.
Part of Walter's personality realizes what he has put his family through and wants to get rid of the beaver to get back together with his family, but the beaver resists. Walter finally takes the puppet out of his life by cutting off his arm at the elbow. He gets a prosthetic hand and is placed in a psychiatric hospital.
Norah reconnects with Porter. She starts the speech he wrote, but stops and admits publicly that she did not write it herself. She switches to explain the value of truth and her trauma caused by her brother's death some years ago. Porter realizes the value of his father and reunites with him.
Walter Black becomes himself again and returns to a normal life.Mel Gibson as Walter Black, a depressed and troubled husband/The Beaver, a hand puppet found in the trash.
Jodie Foster as Meredith Black, Walter's wife
Anton Yelchin as Porter Black, the teenage son of Walter and Meredith who lobbies his mother to get a divorce
Jennifer Lawrence as Norah, Porter's love interest with a secret
Riley Thomas Stewart as Henry Black, the younger son of Walter and Meredith Black.
Zachary Booth as Jared
Cherry Jones as Morgan Newell, vice president of Walter's toy company
Jeff Corbett as Volunteer Dad
On a budget of $21 million, The Beaver was filmed in Westchester County, New York and New York City. A portion of the movie was filmed at White Plains Senior High School in White Plains, New York. Filming was completed in November 2009. Before Gibson was hired, Steve Carell and Jim Carrey were both signed on to star at different stages of production. The film marked a return to New York state for Mel Gibson since he and his family left for Australia in the 1960s.
The Beaver had its world premiere at the South by Southwest film festival on March 16, 2011, where the Los Angeles Times reported that it was given "a relatively warm embrace".
The film had a limited release in 22 theaters on May 9, 2011.
Over its opening weekend, the film grossed $107,577. Entertainment Weekly and several media outlets reported that the film's box office performance was a "flop" with a haul of only $4,890 per theater against its production budget of $21 million (not including marketing costs). Entertainment Weekly compared the box office gross of The Beaver against Mel Gibson's other most recent "box office failure", 2010's Edge of Darkness—which debuted to a per-theater average of $5,615 at more than 3,000 locations—and the box office success of 2010's Black Swan which grossed a per-theater average of $88,863 in limited release at only 16 theaters. The Beaver was the worst debut for a Foster-directed film. The distributor Summit Entertainment had originally planned for a wide release of The Beaver for the weekend of May 20; but, after the initial box-office returns came in, the company changed course and decided to give the film a "limited art-house run". Michael Cieply of The New York Times observed on June 5, 2011, that the film had cleared just about $1 million, making it a certified "flop". The film's director Foster opined that the film did not do well with American audiences because it was a dramedy and "very often Americans are not comfortable with [that]".
Before its release, much of the coverage focussed on the unavoidable association between the protagonist's issues and Mel Gibson's own well-publicized personal and legal problems, including a conviction of battery of his ex-girlfriend in March. Wrote Time Magazine: "The Beaver is a somber, sad domestic drama featuring an alcoholic in acute crisis. Sound familiar, almost like a documentary? It’s hard to separate Gibson’s true-life story from what’s happening onscreen." While critics were impressed by the actor's performance, audiences seemed to stay away due to the "ick factor" of seeing Gibson on screen.
The Beaver received mixed to positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 61% based on reviews from 171 critics and reports a rating average of 6.1 out of 10. It reported the consensus, "Jodie Foster's visual instincts and Mel Gibson's all-in performance sell this earnest, straightforward movie." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 59 based on 32 reviews.
Roger Ebert gave the film 2 1/2 (out of a possible 4) star rating, saying, "The Beaver is almost successful, despite the premise of its screenplay, which I was simply unable to accept."