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Mel Gibson Film 'Beaver' Plays to Rousing Applause at SXSW Premiere

One attendee tells The Hollywood Reporter that the Jodie Foster-directed movie makes Gibson "more sympathetic," though another admits it was hard to get past the actor's "statements about Jews."

“The Beaver”
Guy Aroch Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Summit made a wise choice in choosing SXSW and Austin to first show its potentially troubled drama The Beaver to a regular audience. From the rousing applause of those in attendance at the Paramount Theatre after the Jodie Foster-directed film finished to the supportive reactions to questions about beleaguered star Mel Gibson, it seemed that the crowd was in an encouraging, forgiving mood. [Read The Hollywood Reporter's review here.]

In a strange way, the fact that Gibson is playing a deeply depressed, barely functional husband and father in the film -- whose message is about the need for connection and helping those who are sick whether you like them or not -- while providing major marketing challenges is also the key to its success with audiences. And thus it has no small potential to buoy Gibson's public reputation.

READ THR MAGAZINE'S COVER STORY: Jodie Foster on Mel Gibson: 'I Knew the Minute I Met Him, I Would Love Him' Forever

A quick, random survey of moviegoers exiting the theater provided a snapshot of the various reactions awaiting the film when it's released in May. Two foreign middle-aged women -- one of Gibson's most loyal demos -- had nothing but good things to say about the film, the performance and the message. They love Mel, period, and pointed to how his portrayal in this film helps them understand the struggles of artists. Like Britney Spears. And Charlie Sheen. (Perhaps Summit should enlist Sheen to promote it during his many -- many, many -- public appearances.)

A young guy in his twenties said that he generally liked the film and found it very realistic -- and then he uttered the words that both Gibson and the studio are desperate to hear: "It made him more sympathetic." A woman in her thirties claimed that despite the fact that she's not a fan of Gibson as an actor, she thought that this role and this portrayal were very good and especially fitting.

PHOTOS: Jodie Foster's Most Memorable Roles

Two separate middle-aged couples split along gender lines. The women had a warmer, more emotional response to Gibson and the movie's difficult story line (one said she was sobbing at the end), while the men had much more trouble accepting the basic premise of the hand puppet and other aspects that one described as "trite." One gentleman mocked the conceit as "an eighth of an inch from an old Hammer Films picture with the ventriloquist and the dummy."

And then the other guy uttered the words that the studio is desperate not to hear: "He's made a lot of statements about Jews. He's anti-Semitic." He went on to say that Gibson's more incendiary statements were not possible for him to get past. (Though he did just sit through the movie.)

RELATED: Jodie Foster Defends Mel Gibson at SXSW 'Beaver' Premiere

Several questioned said that they were not entirely able to get the recent scary public Gibson completely out of their head while watching Gibson the critically acclaimed actor. But everyone agreed that The Beaver is a surprisingly intense film (and well-directed and -written), despite some moments of humor, and that it was smart of Foster to say from the stage during the intro that "this is not a comedy."

 No, it sure isn't.