Following the sudden death of his mother, a mild-mannered but anxiety-ridden man confronts his darkest fears as he embarks on an epic, Kafkaesque odyssey back home.
I’m not quite sure how to describe the experience of watching ‘Beau is Afraid’, a 3 hour long bizarre and surreal movie that straddles horror, comedy and tragedy often simultaneously, while putting Joaquin Phoenix through the wringer in the central role. It is a movie that probably couldn’t come from anyone else other than Ari Aster, whose previous horror movies ‘Hereditary’ and ‘Midsommar’ were both critically acclaimed but proved divisive with audiences (‘Midsommar’ in particular). It’d be hard to imagine ‘Beau is Afraid’ not being equally as divisive, if not moreso. For my part I thought this was a self indulgent, impenetrable movie that is far too long (at 3 hours) and frankly all over the place – that isn’t to say it doesn’t have its moments but they aren’t frequent enough.
In terms of the ‘plot’ (of which there is one), it stars the almost always great Joaquin Phoenix as the titular Beau, an anxious and paranoid middle aged man who sets off on a surreal journey to travel home for his mothers funeral. Along the way he encounters some unusual people, circumstances, all the whilst flashing back to moments from his past (particularly his childhood), and potentially even forward into his future. It’s certainly tough to get a handle on. There are spurts of surreal humour and laughs, particularly in the opening section in the bizarre crime ridden neighbourhood where Beau lives, which did make me laugh quite a few times (I think I could have enjoyed a 90 minute movie purely in this setting), but I felt my interest waning more and more as the movie unfolded. In Joaquin Phoenix, Aster has perhaps the only actor capable of giving it a good go of making this material work, and he is really good, but the movie around him is frankly quite exhausting and a few genuinely funny moments can’t change that.
‘Beau is Afraid’ will not be for everyone and it certainly wasn’t for me. Perhaps there is something to admire in a director willing to go all out and make such a surreal and unusual movie, but for god sake hire a good editor (and perhaps someone to finesse your ideas too) as it’s hard to rate this as anything other than a bit of a slog. I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not quite sure I know what it’s all about, but to be honest I’m not sure I cared all that much either.
Directed By: Ari Aster
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Kylie Rogers, Denis Ménochet, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Richard Kind, Hayley Squires, Julian Richings, Michael Gandolfini, Théodore Pellerin, Mike Taylor and Bill Hader