Mel Gibson’s next movie, The Beaver, was set to be released by Summit Entertainment in the spring or fall of 2011. Or at least that seemed like a fine game plan until the mother of his child, Oksana Grigorieva, accused him of physically abusing her and their baby, and released recordings of phone calls that purportedly show him crazily gasping to fill his lungs in order to more effectively call her three nasty names over and over again. Now, Summit finds itself what’s the technical term they use in Hollywood? Oh yes: superfucked. Execs at the company privately admit that even they don’t know what to do with the Jodie Foster–directed movie, the story of a depressed man who suffers a psychotic break when his family abandons him and becomes best friends with a beaver hand puppet that he imbues with an alternate personality with a British accent. One Summit suit calls the situation “unprecedented.” So what are their options? We’ve laid them out below, and as you’ll see, none of them are good.
OPTION 1: Send The Beaver Directly to DVD.
Why it could work: The Beaver might never earn back from theaters what it would cost to market the movie in the first place, so why not go to DVD, where you don’t have the huge publicity costs to make up for?
Why that will never work: First, going straight to video sends audiences a message that the film is in the same league as cheapo junk like American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile. For another, you can’t count on home video the way you used to for ancillary profits. The Los Angeles Times today reports that for the first half of the year, DVD sales were down about 15 percent, while DVD rental spending declined nearly 5 percent — thanks to a 55 percent jump in revenue at $1 per night kiosks like Red Box.
OPTION 2: Market The Beaver As a Jodie Foster Film, Not a Mel Gibson Movie.
Why it could work: Everybody loves Jodie Foster! She’s an American institution! And who doesn’t remember Little Man Tate fondly?
Why it will never work: Yes, Foster directed and played his wife. But insiders tell us Gibson is in 90 percent of the scenes in the movie, making it all but impossible to hide his involvement. What are you gonna do, kick him out of the poster? Look at how well that worked with Tom Cruise and Knight and Day.
OPTION 3: Sell The Beaver As a “Message Movie” About Mental Illness and Have Mel Publicly Say He Is, in Fact, Mentally Ill
Why it could work: Imagine all the interviewers asking, “Mel, have you ever felt like you were going crazy?” Then he could make a little joke, “Whatever could you be talking about?” then everyone chuckles, and he leans forward and says, “But seriously, mental illness affects everyone, as you see in this movie. Heck, it even happens to movie stars. And thank goodness I was able to get help. Everyone’s not so lucky.”
Why it will never work: Gibson recently lost his longtime agent and trusted confidant, Ed Limato, to lung cancer and was promptly cut loose by Limato’s former agency, William Morris Endeavor. Without Limato, who was well-known for his straight talk with clients, Gibson seems bereft of the professional advice that might preserve his career: He seems genuinely committed to the idea that he can still win custody of his youngest child and be consumed with hatred for its mother. Plus, when it comes to audience empathy for mental illness, there is a big difference between the clinically depressed and people who bellow “I DESERVE TO BE BLOWN!”
OPTION 4: Really Commit and Release The Beaver As an Oscar Contender and Hope for the Best.
Why it could work: Summit insiders (unsurprisingly) say that the Gibson film is quite good. (It’s not impossible: Wagner, after all, was a racist and an anti-Semite, but no one is suggesting The Ring Cycle wasn’t a mammoth operatic achievement.) The script by Kyle Killeen (creator of Fox’s buzzy new fall show Lone Star) topped the 2008 Black List, the annual list of best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. And the Motion Picture Academy loves Foster: She has been nominated for four Oscars and won two, and the fact that she’s been acting for 41 years means they look at her like proud parents, even though she’s 47.
Why it will never work: Audiences stayed away in droves from Gibson’s last starring vehicle, Edge of Darkness, and that was before he allegedly punched Grigorieva while she was holding his child. And while Foster has won both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Academy Awards, she’s never been nominated for her directing, even for Little Man Tate. And let’s say, miracles of miracles, it becomes an Oscar contender. That’s hardly a box-office indicator: Despite The Hurt Locker being named last year’s Best Picture, Summit still only managed to squeeze an extra $1.7 million out of audiences after the Oscars.
OPTION 5: Put the Film on the Shelf Until the Moment Is Right.
Why it’s the best option: Scientists predict that in the year 2843, the human race will be overtaken by a race of cyborgs with the prime directive that they deserve to be blown. And they will need a summer tentpole.