The Beaver script

The Beaver screenplay by Kyle Killen was the top-rated script on the annual Black List of Hollywood screenplays in 2008. The Black List compiles the best screenplays of the year in the major studio market, as voted on by a select group of industry professionals. Click on the image below for the 2008 list (note: the #’s represent votes, not ranking.  The Beaver received the most votes, 67, thus it is the top-ranked script.)

Note: very mild spoilers below, nothing that’s not in the trailer.

With an utterly unique concept, a deft balance between comedy and drama and the heat from the Black List win, it’s safe to say that this film was initially fast-tracked due to the strength of the spec script. Kyle Killen was apparently already a known screenwriter (although his only other imdb credit is as creator of the short-lived TV series Lone Star, which came out just this year) but I’d warrant it was the material, not his connections, that sold the script.

The Beaver screenplay immediately gathered elements, with Steve Carell originally attached to star, which felt to me like a casting choice made in heaven. With a delicate balance of humor and pathos, demands for physical comedy and accents, the star of The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine and Get Smart seemed like a perfect fit. But Carell dropped out and the project fell into limbo for many months.

Jodie Foster eventually picked it up to direct and she cast Mel Gibson.

Yes, that Mel Gibson. Heard anything about him lately?

For this reason, I’m not going to pay money to see this film in the theater. I don’t want to support a hateful bigot who already has too much money and power. But I read the script with my Reader’s Group before he was cast (you know, back in the days when you could swap screenplays without getting sued by Fox for a cool $15 mil?) and it’s one of the most discussed spec sales in recent years, so I felt compelled to write about it.

As for Gibson playing the lead role, WALTER, a depressed father of two boys, I immediately thought he was way too old. Remember, he’s not a “Hollywood dad” who fathers kids well into his 90s in-between oxygen tank-assisted poker nights with Larry King and Michael Douglas; he’s a normal, suburban middle-class father, like Lester Burnham in American Beauty (a film that explores similar issues of suburban angst).

Looking at the trailer, I’m still wondering if his age may be a problem.

But he could just pull it off. We shall see.

As for the script, it asks a lot of the reader; mainly, to accept a world in which a man with a Beaver puppet on his hand who speaks through it in a faux British accent could run a successful company, capture the heart of America and win over his estranged family. There’s a number of surprising beats in Act Two that one wonders how they will make work onscreen — then one whopper of a HARD RIGHT TURN followed by an even HARDER RIGHT TURN to end Act Two (right on page 90, thank you very much, folks – that’s how it’s done!).

Here’s an actual line of description from one of those scenes which captures the script, and hopefully the film, in a nutshell…

If this plays with any humor at the start it very quickly
disappears. This isn't Liar Liar.

Ultimately, the script pulls off that daunting task faced by many a screenwriter: creating the “almost-real world” — not quite Tim Burton fantasy-land but far from American Beauty. It rests somewhere in the middle, challenging us to believe that a guy could keep a beaver puppet on his arm 24/7, even sleeping and showering with it. And yet, it’s meant to be taken mostly seriously, a la a Charlie Kaufman script such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Synecdoche, New York. (The Beaver is not quite as wacky as Being John Malkovich)

But will the film pull off this tone? That’s the big question. But you’ll have to let me know if it works because I’m waiting for video!

Good Luck and Happy Writing.

-Dan

4 replies
  1. Stephen Hoover
    Stephen Hoover says:

    Tone is the big problem. It’s a very dark comedy (the 127 HOURS-ish beat) and American audiences don’t embrace that sub-genre. Foreign audiences don’t understand it. THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and the surprising WORLD’S GREATEST DAD are two recent dark comedies that worked. But… box office? Modest. Difficulty of execution = extremely high; potential payoff = modest. Tough one.

    If you miss, you quickly fall into HOWARD THE DUCK-level unintentional laughs. Gibson’s personal problems will repel many viewers. Foster is a capable director but it’s tough. I don’t see this film doing well, but I’ll certainly be there to observe the results.

    The most votes of any script on the Black List. It’s a unique concept. Sets out the rules of its own world and follows them. Was a fascinating read. I wouldn’t have said, “Buy this!” if my job were on the line. If you could make it for THANK YOU FOR SMOKING budget, yes. But for real money and wide release? Wrong material.

    Good luck to them though.

    Reply
    • Dan
      Dan says:

      I agree on the commerciality of dark comedy in the U.S., Stephen. Movies like American Beauty and Being John Malkovich are anomalies in terms of being box-office hits, and look at when both came out: 1999. It’s a tough market for this kind of material, sadly.

      As far as budget, from what I understand, though, they kept it low so I don’t think they’re taking much risk.

      Reply

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