Screen Gems

Sean Penn & Crispin Glover in drag? Just WTF is ‘The Beaver Trilogy?’

The Beaver Trilogy Part 4

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The WTF: The Beaver Trilogy Part 4

Please reread that title again.

Cinema, particularly in the internet era, has its share of mysteries. Clips or entire films can pop up on YouTube without any context, knowledge of their origin, or of the creative minds involved, or, for that matter, just what a movie even is. Is it a calling card left by a serial killer? Or is it just some teenagers having fun in their basement?

Case in point: director Trent Harris’ bizarre feature The Beaver Trilogy. The film is broken into three segments, the first, ostensibly a documentary about a teenager named Groovin’ Gary. Gary has a big personality and a die-hard love of Olivia Newton-John, so much so that he’s named his car after her. Gary talks about his dreams for becoming a Hollywood movie star before a trip to the mortuary (yes, really) to get his make-up done (yes, really…again). The segment culminates with Gary performing a live drag number in character as Olivia Newton-John as part of a school talent show.

Segment #2 essentially repeats the story of the first, although with Groovin’ Gary now played by Sean Penn (yes, really…this movie has a lot of that going on, in case you hadn’t gleaned). Penn performs every bit of Gary schtick from the first film, though the second segment has a very different ending. In this bit, Gary’s father condemns him for coming off gay, and the segment ends with Gary committing suicide by gunshot. The third segment recreates Gary’s story again, although with Crispin Glover donning the ONJ drag and killing himself with a shotgun to the head.

And now for The Beaver Trilogy Part 4. If our description of The Beaver Trilogy has you puzzled, you’re not alone. Director Brad Besser launched an investigation into the origins and meaning of the bizarre film with this documentary, narrated by Bill Hader. Part 4 features extensive interviews with Trent Harris who describes the origins of the original movie, and how he landed two young stars-to-be to play the lead in his dramatized segments. The documentary also reveals the identity of the real-life Groovin’ Gary and the homophobia he endured that left him a radically changed man. For the record, that doesn’t mean Gary actually was gay; rather, what matters here is that people perceived him as such. Homophobia poisons more than just the hearts and minds of queer people.

The Beaver Trilogy Part 4 plays as a strange ode to filmmaking, the resilience of a director, and, on a subversive level, the destructive power of anti-LGBTQ sentiment. We’ll not reveal the real story behind Groovin’ Gary, his fate, or The Beaver Trilogy here other than to say that this “fourth chapter” to the saga has more than a few twists to it. Captivating, hilarious and with an ominous vein running through it, we suggest giving it a watch. You’ve never seen a movie like this.

Streams on Amazon, Tubi, YouTube & VUDU.