From Ari Aster, director of Hereditary and Midsommar. From his darkest fears comes the greatest adventure.
Beau Is Afraid is a 2023 American surrealist tragicomedy horror film written, directed, and produced by Ari Aster. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as the title character, Beau Wassermann, a mild-mannered but paranoia-ridden man who embarks on a surreal odyssey to get home to his mother, confronting his greatest fears along the way.
Dean (Guest) – I’m not an Ari Aster fanboy. I only saw Midsommar for the first time a couple months ago. So when I heard he had a new film coming out with Joaquin Phoenix about an anxiety-ridden man confronting his deepest darkest fears as he journeys back home following the sudden death of his mother, I knew it would be depressing and weird and explicit and probably filled with nightmare fuel. Fun.
To my surprise, the film wasn’t as traumatic as I predicted it would be. In fact, it was a lot funnier. I found myself laughing out loud constantly throughout the film. That might have been my body’s way of dealing with the absolute weirdness on screen. The film really leans into the surrealism but does so in comedic ways that you can’t help but find amusing even though you probably have no idea what’s going on.
My biggest gripe with the film is that it’s too long. Three hours is too much screen time for this film. It’s at least 30mins too long. There’s definitely a two hour cut in there somewhere. The best part of the film, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Joaquin’s performance as he does such a great job of portraying a mild-mannered but anxious loner.
Overall, the film was more than a little confusing, a lot funnier than expected, with an excellent lead performance but in a bloated film that really didn’t have to be as long as it was.
This will go down as one of Aster’s more divisive films. It gets a 6/10 from me.
Stephan (Guest) – To put it simply, Beau is Afraid is 3 hours of pure mommy issues. The mother wound is at the core of this story about a neurotic, fearful, hypochondriac man who finds himself on an unexpected journey to his mother’s untimely funeral.
As always, Ari Aster returns to the well of familial trauma, and extracts the essence of very specific parts of the human psyche to create a unique and anxiety-inducing 3-hour journey. And Joaquin Phoenix is there from the very first moment, to the very last, providing a tour de force as he commits his entire mind and body to the role.
For me, the film was just too long. Everything said could have been done within 2 hours, but Aster wanted to really delve into the depths of what appears to be a somewhat personal story. With his track record, I can see why the studio allowed him to.
The film appears to be based on a short Aster made in 2011 called Beau. It has a similar premise to the opening scenes of this feature; but I would argue that his other short Munchausen also dovetails into Beau is Afraid, while vignettes of his other short films also work their way into this story.
Aster’s ability to extract trauma and horror-like moments out of everyday life and actions is on full display here as it aligns completely with this character’s view of the world. Aster takes the tiniest moment, word, or action and stretches it out in excruciatingly brilliant detail, which is exactly what the entire film is, scene after scene. It’s exhilarating at first, but becomes exhausting by the final act.
Overall, Beau is Afraid was a fun ride. I expected the surrealism, and I’m partial to the genre, so this worked for me personally. For most audiences, it will not. It’s Ari Aster’s least accessible film to date. However, there’s still enough here that anyone with a complicated relationship with a parent will be able to latch on to and resonate with or recoil from. And that’s what storytelling is all about.
With a shorter runtime, I’d give it a much higher score but as is, it’s a middling experience with moments of brilliance. 6.5/10
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