Jodie Foster is one of those people who has been part of mainstream entertainment as long as I've been paying attention to it, and who always seemed close enough to me in age that I could use her as a sort of milestone for my own life.

As an actor, I think she can be undervalued, despite the Oscars, and I miss her when she doesn't work for a while.  As a filmmaker, she has a remarkably small resume, but I think she's proven that she likes unconventional material, and that she brings a considerable intelligence to the choices she makes.

Thankfully, "The Beaver" offers up Foster as both actor and director, scratching both itches at once, and I think it represents a real triumph for her.  Of course, thanks to our tabloid society, most of the conversations about the film seem to focus on Mel Gibson, his public meltdown, and his possible career rehab that the film might represent.  But for me, what made "The Beaver" compelling from the moment it came together was the notion of Foster behind the camera again.

Sure enough, the film is a quiet marvel of tasteful choices.  Just consider the way Foster shoots both Gibson and the puppet as characters instead of treating one as a prop.  And also consider the careful handling of depression in the movie.  Where one director could easily take this same script and play it as farce, Foster keeps it firmly grounded in real human pain.  

As a result, the laughs that are there are the sort that stick in your throat, laughs of bitter recognition of our own flaws.  She elicits very strong performances from the young cast, Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence, which should come as no surprise.  I would imagine if any director on Earth knows how to speak to a young actor, it would be Foster.

I actually don't remember much of our conversation.  It's been a couple of months.  I do remember that she was suffering from an eye infection that meant she had to keep on a pair of sunglasses the entire time we spoke.  And I also remember how petite she is in person, and how matter of fact she was.  At no point did it seem like I was being over-handled by publicists, which I've seen happen for people far less famous and interesting than Foster.  Instead, it was an easy but short chat, and if anything, it just made me want to sit down with her sometime for a longer, more substantial chat.

Preferably not through a hand puppet.

"The Beaver" opens in limited release Friday, May 6.