Beau is Afraid is the work of a director unhinged and unrestrained by the grips of a studio.
BY JACK RANSOM MAY 11, 2023
Ari Aster’s third feature length outing after the acclaimed one-two of Hereditary and Midsommar. Beau is Afraid sees a mild-mannered but anxiety-ridden man (Joaquin Phoenix) confront his darkest fears as he embarks on an epic, Kafkaesque odyssey back home, after his mother (Patti LuPone) passes away.
“I’m visiting my mother tomorrow.”
This is a lot to take in upon first viewing. Aster has conjured up a 3 hour epic that is pretty much near impenetrable for those that are not on his wavelength or have the patience for the slow burn pacing, extended runtime and his knack for crafting anxiety, discomfort and (most evident here) a genuine sense of confusion. However, though not without its flaws, this is a mammoth, utterly unique, bitingly funny and disturbing odyssey that you have to commend A24 for allowing Aster to use every single cent of the $35 million dollar budget.
It is tricky to get into the narrative specifics as I really think one of (if not) the best ways to enter Beau’s world is knowing as little as possible. Divided into four chapters: we start from the crime, mania, violence ridden streets of Beau’s apartment block, when an accident flings him to the off-kilter and intense care of Grace (Amy Ryan) and Roger (Nathan Lane) who keep him at their home to recover. From here, well it has to be seen to be believed as Beau encounters many a fantastical, guilt-ridden, unnerving presence on his path.
Self-indulgence is certainly prevalent throughout this and Aster clearly still has some unresolved family issues in his noggin’ that he lays out uncompromisingly on the screen. The third act does feel the strain, especially as the events leading to it are presented to exhaust. However, the film is just consistently engrossing throughout. It is impossible to pigeon-hole the film: black comedy, drama, adventure, mystery, horror; it has it all.
Every cent of this budget has been thrown up on the screen and I completely understand why an IMAX release currently is present in the US. Aster is certainly at his most creative here. Every frame is precise (I love the frequent lingering camera placement at Beau’s apartment hallways), the movements and transitions are slick and the the incorporation of a myriad of animation styles and theatrical-Wizard of Oz-esque wonder to craft Beau’s narrated life’s journey for one particular set piece is genuinely jaw-dropping.
Joaquin Phoenix delivers one of his best performances here. A softly spoken, good spirited, yet utterly petrified, bag of nerves and sexual repression. He gives 110% here on all fronts. Patti LuPone is a sharp and piercing presence, both Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane balance eerie and overtly friendly, their daughter (Kylie Rogers), on the other hand is a whirlwind of hostility.
Like Babylon earlier this year, Beau is Afraid is the work of a director unhinged and unrestrained by the grips of a studio. Not without its problems, but honestly the more I think about it the more I love and appreciate it. A magnetic lead performance from Phoenix, an utterly insane, funny, dark and haunting 3 hour quest of one man just trying to get home. The visuals are oftentimes extraordinary and the direction is superb. Just be prepared, you won’t have experienced anything quite like it.