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Beau is Afraid Review

April 29, 2023 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Beau is Afraid Image Credit: A24 Films
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Beau is Afraid Review  

* Joaquin Phoenix as Beau Wassermann
* Patti LuPone as Mona Wassermann
* Amy Ryan as Grace
* Nathan Lane as Roger
* Kylie Rogers as Toni
* Denis Menochet as Jeeves
* Parker Posey as Elaine Bray
* Richard Kind as Dr. Cohen
* Stephen McKinley Henderson as The Therapist

Story: A paranoid man embarks on an epic odyssey to get home to his mother.

There are some who might call Ari Aster a divisive filmmaker. There are plenty of people who loved Hereditary and Midsommar, but others who didn’t, although that’s arguably a smaller amount. Personally, I loved them both. If you’re not a fan of his style, it’s hard to see how Beau is Afraid is going to convince you. It’s a sprawling three-hour epic that’s almost overstuffed with weirdness. It’s a rare case in which the trailer is actually a pretty good indicator of what to expect, because it’s a tough movie to figure out.

The thing I like about Aster is how he provides a window into mental illness and the dark side of being human. Hereditary was a bleak look at grief disguised as a horror film. Midsommar highlighted bipolar disorder and PTSD. While you can argue whether or not it did so accurately (some called the latter problematic), it really depends on one’s personal experience. Beau is another one of those, as the title character suffers from anxiety, paranoia and has a mother that’s codependent.

On one hand, it’s a brilliant move to have a paranoid character go on an adventure where you’re not quite sure what you’re seeing. It’s an easy way to have the audience question what’s real and what’s just in his head. On the other, it does make the film hard to follow and, without spoiling anything, you may not get any concrete answers about anything. As someone who suffers from paranoia, I found it fascinating and saw a little too much of myself in Beau. Aster himself described the film as a nightmare and that’s definitely apparent. This is clearly not the normal world that Beau is in, but a reflection of it through someone with lifelong mental illness. Even a homeless person needing help could be scary to someone terrified of strangers, as what happens to Beau early on.

The biggest strength of the movie is casting Joaquin Phoenix. Beau may be afraid, but Phoenix is definitely not. He’s 100% willing to do anything this movie asks of him, whether that be crashing through a window or running naked in the street. Likewise, the movie is not afraid to run him through the ringer. Beau has plenty of reasons to be afraid in this as the story takes him to some wild places. Phoenix isn’t the only one bringing a strong performance as Patti LuPone is just as good whenever she’s on screen. Aster seems to know how to cast the right people for his movies and bring out the best in them. That might be his biggest strength as a director.

At times the movie has to depend on those performances to carry it through, along with some nice visual creativity, because it has two major things working against it. The first is the story. It sits right on the verge of being incomprehensible, leaning a little too hard on being surreal. And the second makes that worse, as this is three hours long. It’s one thing to have a surreal movie, it’s another to stretch it out for that length of time.

If there’s one thing you should get out of this review it’s that this is not an easy watch. Depending on who you are, it may not even be an entertaining watch. This was crafted for a very specific audience and Aster is basically doing whatever he wants here. This one is far more open to interpretation and those that love it will likely have a lot of theories. Those that don’t like it are really going to hate it because the length makes the flaws more apparent.

It’s hard to even give a score to a movie like this. Beau is Afraid has its good points and its bad points. It’s more something you experience. That said, it’s highs manage to make it at least watchable, no matter how often its lows threaten to derail everything. It’s too weird and too inaccessible, but it’s also fearless and ambitious. The best recommendation one could give is to see it and decide for yourself.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
Ari Aster's least accessible film yet, Beau is Afraid is not going to win you over if you hated his prior work. At times it's a confusing mess and others it's a visual treat, but at all times it's carried by strong performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Patti LuPone. If you're into surrealist cinema, this may be up your alley. If you're not, it might be best to avoid due to its running time.

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Beau is Afraid, Joseph Lee