It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
“Leave It to Beaver” is a gentle, good-hearted movie about an 8-year-old who sighs, “I used to want to be a kid the rest of my life, but lately I just want to get it over with.” Beaver Cleaver despairs of ever being as smart, as popular, as talented and (especially) as old as his teenage brother Wally, and all of his schemes to evolve in that direction seem doomed. Even when he finally gets the bicycle of his dreams, he’s allowed to ride it only on the sidewalk: He’s a “flat-lander.” The movie is based on the popular TV series. I’ve never watched a single episode of the series all the way through, but like most Americans I have a working knowledge of the Cleavers: Ward and June and their sons Beaver and Wally, and Wally’s friend, the conniving Eddie Haskell. They lead the kinds of lives in which all problems can be solved in 22.5 minutes of program time; faced with an 88-minute movie, they almost run out of plot.
But the film is disarmingly charming, and, like “Good Burger,” pitched at young audiences. Whether they’ll want to see it is a good question; kids these days seem to tilt more toward violent action pictures. I was surprised to find myself seduced by the film’s simple, sweet story, and amused by the sly indications that the Cleavers don’t live in the 1950s anymore.
In a way, all sitcom families are profoundly mad. They must be, to generate so many shallow emergencies, to talk only in one-liners, and to never leave the room without a punch line. “Leave It to Beaver” suggests a certain dark component to the Cleavers’ sunniness, as in a moment when Ward (Christopher McDonald) experiences suppressed apoplexy after learning that the Beaver has “lost” his new bike, or in another moment when we learn that June (Janine Turner), who always wears pearls and heels while vacuuming, may know it’s a turn-on for her husband.
They live in a time suspended between 1957 and 1997. The cars look new, but they still use glass milk bottles. As the film opens, Beaver (Cameron Finley) wants a bike as badly as his father wants him to join the school football team. Easy, says Eddie Haskell (Adam Zolotin): Pretend to join the team, and your dad will buy you the bike.