Beau Is Afraid
But not without annoying you
The biggest surprise from Ari Aster's latest movie Beau is Afraid is how he managed to make the movie, considering that it's a total anxiety inducing oddball with one of the finest actors working in Hollywood today. It could be that his relationship with A24 has scored him this deal, with his previous two critical and commercial darlings Hereditary and Midsommar obviating him from any critical scrutiny.
Three hours long and filled with scene after scene of insanity and overindulgence, this is not your typical Hollywood bender but this comes at the cost of actually enjoying the movie. Who's your average movie watcher? A person who comes to a dark room post a long day at work and sits through a dreamscape that's a stand-in to escape their gritty life. Beau is Afraid takes this opportunity to submerge the audience deeper into their loser ethos with no salvation possible, you can chuckle at the little jokes peppered through the movie but it eventually brings you into confrontation of what is to painfully plugging fingers in your emotional wounds. Now that's a challenging watch, different from the happy sap sold week after week, but that also makes one question, how challenging should movies be? Beau is Afraid takes the lead a bit too far, often with a lot of disjointed experimentation that doesn't really make sense. Why is Beau hallucinating and what's up with his mom? When the reveals happen, the interest wanes at the long run time that meanders through a lot of nonsensical events, all of which pretend to have a greater meaning beyond the plot. It felt like Ari Aster wanted to pull something like what Charlie Kaufman did with Synecdoche, New York but to pull such a film there has to be a hook that is powerful. In Beau is Afraid it's about Beau wanting to meet his mother and it makes you wonder, if that's all the dramatic meat that's needed to sustain a story.
Crazy things keep happening that propel the story forward but none have any semblance over reality. We're supposed to believe that these things can happen but my biggest grouse was that the world building wasn't enough for me to be invested about Beau. Joaquin Phoenix breathes the character of Beau into submission and it's painful to watch him suffer but this suffering doesn't come from a point of empathy but rather disgust, and considering Ari Aster's previous horror credentials this is a compliment. The movie left me asking for more or made me wonder how it passed through multiple layers of scrutiny that take over a creative project. It's a movie that I won't be revisiting again (and unlike Requiem for Dream not for a good reason) but it's challenging watch that I'd recommend you to sit through because it's unusual filmmaking and when there's a lot of hullabaloo over cookie cutter movies, Beau offers a critical rethink of what can be a blockbuster.