BEAU IS AFRAID
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Parker Posey
Director: Ari Aster
What do I even say about Beau Is Afraid? Some people ADORE this film. Some people HATE it. I understand both reactions. For me, I find it similar to last year’s White Noise: an ambitious film (basically) broken into acts with varying levels of success. There are many aspects I enjoy…Joaquin Phoenix works great as man-child Beau and there is some exceptional camera work and visuals…but it doesn’t amount to a succinct film unhampered by its runtime. It’s not a write-off, and it’s filled with subtle details begging for a re-watch, but it is still ranked third in director Ari Aster’s three-film filmography.
If anything can be said for Beau Is Afraid without refute, it’s certainly Ari Aster’s most audacious film to date, and somehow one of Joaquin Phoenix’s strangest turns. A horror comedy of lengthy proportions, this saga of chaos and confusion takes less of a conventional route through terror and instead establishes itself as something akin to a prolonged surrealist anxiety attack. It certainly didn’t need to be three hours long, and the entirely unexpected third act will be make-or-break for most people, but I can’t say I wasn’t fascinated or eager to see what would happen the whole way through.
I love Ari Aster’s previous films, so my hype for Beau Is Afraid was sky-high. Although I liked it, it does feel a little too self-indulgent for me to praise its ambitiousness. Joaquin Phoenix is reliably great, as is Patti LuPone; however, the film’s first hour introduces the surrealism in a funny and engaging way before the second hour lost me. At that point, most of what is happening on screen feels like it’s only happening to cater to Aster. By the end, I understood what he was going for, but it left a conflicted taste in my mouth.
Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) might be afraid, but director Ari Aster sure isn’t. This movie is honestly one of the most obscure and maddening movies I’ve ever seen. It feels like a full-blown fever dream that has the anxiety knob cranked up to eleven. It’s a lot to take in, and like Aster’s other films, I admire the craftsmanship put on display through his style and production design while simultaneously never wanting to watch this ever again. Of course, Phoenix is great as expected, but this movie is not for me, and it probably won’t be for many others either outside of huge Aster fans.