Stephen McKinley Henderson
BEAU IS AFRAID
From Ari Aster, Beau Is Afraid is the director's wildest movie yet: a three hour-long character piece about a man reluctantly making his way to his mother's funeral, facing all kinds of surreal, life-threatening challenges along the way.
From the very beginning, it's clear that this is something of a departure for the director, though it is definitely an Ari Aster movie. This is a big and bold psychological assault of a film in the vein of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon or Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. With its hefty running time, disjointed structure and its thoroughly unpredictable script, Beau Is Afraid aims to disarm the viewer completely, arguably with the goal of torturing them a little bit, while making them laugh. This is one of those experimental films that will fascinate and infuriate in equal parts leaving some in the audience baffled, perhaps slightly angry, with others eager to look deeper into its themes, before they're inevitably ready to watch it again.
Joaquin Phoenix gives another all-in performance as Beau: a miserable schmuck dressed in greys and baby blue, usually covered in scabs, unconvincingly trying to contain his obvious rage, barely able to speak properly half the time. We dig into this odd fellow's dreams and darkest fears, his unsettling past, as his anxiety takes over when trying to leave his apartment in order to go see his mother, never letting go. His fears intensify as he wanders from one strange situation to the next, through a brutal maze of trauma and regrets. The whole cast is very game, especially Parker Posey who shines in the second half of the film.
One thing that differentiates this film from Aster's debut Hereditary, even Midsommar, is the absurdism here is constant instead of sharply poking you for maximum impact when you least expect it. The universe of this movie, in which even the extras are in on the joke, may alienate some viewers who might've expected having more to hold onto like a conventional narrative or characters that don't act strange all the time. The film embraces its slower pace with the inclusion of uncomfortably long takes and the acting feels closer to theater acting from time to time. Speaking of theater, Nathan Lane's amusingly fuddy-duddy character is the most normal thing in this movie but even he reveals a darker, weirder side. He's great.
Watching this film is an overwhelming, often awkward experience but this is by design and its boldness is something to applaud. This is maybe not one that mainstream audiences will connect with (at least not right away) but it's a hugely creative oddity that challenges its viewer; this is a good thing; and it is brilliant throughout, even though the final act is admittedly a little heavygoing.
Not one for the faint of heart, but do give it a chance.