Last night, at the South By Southwest Film Festival, Mel Gibson's film "The Beaver," about a depressed man who communicates to his family and friends solely through a hand puppet, was shown for the first time in public. We, like everyone else, were curious: Would audiences be able to separate crazy ranting Mel Gibson from serious actor Mel Gibson?
The early returns -- keeping in mind the generally forgiving, artsy crowd at SXSW -- look good for Gibson: The majority of critics have some reservations about the movie, but they absolutely love his performance. The most glowing rave might have come from Variety's Andrew Barker, who wrote that Gibson "delivers a performance very few could pull off." The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore wrote, "Gibson, hyperventilating and with eyes darting in panic, offers a more
affecting, less romantically dramatic collapse than some he has created
in earlier film roles — and he continues to underplay this state of mind
(darting eyes aside) as the action grows progressively darker. IFC.com's Matt Singer wrote, "If you can disassociate yourself from your personal feelings about actor
Mel Gibson -- a fitting gesture for a film about a man who invents an
alternate personality -- it's not hard to admire his performance. But that's a big if."
The Hollywood Reporter surveyed a few moviegoers exiting the Austin theater, and, anecdotally, most were able to separate the actor from the man. "It made him more sympathetic," said one, in music to studio Summit Entertainment's ears. Another Gibson skeptic converted was Lainey Melnick, volunteer at SXSW who, quoth the Los Angeles Times:
"I'm Jewish, so that was something I really was weighing before coming out,I used to love his work, but now it's difficult for me to separate the two. I do think he's a fabulous actor. In a way I'm sort of glad he's not here so I don't have to deal with that."
After the film ended, Melnick was crying. "It was really beautiful," she said. "I could put all that aside and was watching the story."
But let's not get carried away: We're still talking about Mel Gibson here. On person quoted in the THR story snarled, "He's made a lot of statements about Jews. He's anti-Semitic."
Yep, no one has forgotten about Gibson's tapes just yet, or, for that matter, that disguise. It also didn't help that Gibson was booked for battery last night, a routine matter that nevertheless isn't the most pleasant reminder of why he's so loathed that his name is shorthand for a degree of anti-Semitism.
But at the very least, for one night, audiences were able to enjoy Mel Gibson the actor, to see him doing something other than screaming horrible things at his ex-girlfriend. Will mainstream audiences be able to make the same leap? The film opens on May 6. Summit, and the actor, have a month and a half to convince them.
Watch Mel Gibson in clips from "The Beaver":
Review Round-Up: So What Did SXSW Critics Think of The Beaver? [Movieline]
SXSW: Mel Gibson Film 'Beaver' Plays to Rousing Applause in Premiere [The Hollywood Reporter]