*The following review aims to be as spoiler-free as possible and will minimally discuss plot details. However, it is best not to read anything about Beau is Afraid before seeing it. Proceed with caution.*
I’ll say this to get out of the way: while very good films, Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar were vastly overhyped by the masses. When I saw them, I thought they were good but nowhere near on the pedestal that Film Twitter consistently puts them on.
When the trailer for Aster’s Beau is Afraid was released, it was received with the same type of overhype his first two films got, so I was extremely weary of this one when seeing the movie in a relatively empty IMAX showing at 2 in the afternoon. I was quickly entranced by its opening scene, which sees the birth of Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) from the inside of her mother, Mona (Zoe Lister-Jones and Patti LuPone), to the pregnancy ward.
Beau is Afraid Doesn’t Care About Your Expectations
The opening scene automatically tells you the movie you’re about to embark on, one with absolutely no regard for audience expectations and consistently testing their patience for 179 mind-numbingly stupid minutes. It will not be for everyone. Many will leave the film furious in how Aster assembles a frustrating narrative with an inherently frustrating protagonist at its core whilst jarringly shifting in tone, energy, and genre.
The film starts with an Enter the Void-like birth sequence, morphs into a slice-of-life comedy with post-apocalyptic undertones, turns into a quirky sitcom with the introduction of Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan’s characters, swiftly darkens its tone the longer he stays in Roger (Lane) and Grace’s (Ryan) house, has an animated interlude, grows into an Inland Empire finale with a sex scene shot like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room in the middle of it, and ends with a literal and figurative wet fart. And this barely covers what the movie is about.
Beau is Afraid makes no sense. The whole thing is a vastly surreal and uncomfortable dark comedy, filled with scenes you cannot believe are happening or ending in the way they end. And yet, for some sick and twisted reason, you can’t look away. Once you’re entranced in the story, you’ll never be able to take your eyes off the screen.
Aster crafts a hypnotic aesthetic with cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, who consistently careens his camera to present the setting Beau walks into. It always puts us into Beau’s shoes, moving with (and as) him in the environment and always jerking to his viewing angle. It’s a must-see in IMAX, as its aspect ratio is perfectly suited for the largest screen in fully immersing you into Beau’s twisted mind and journey to reunite himself with his mom.
Beau is Afraid is Wildly Unpredictable
Aster’s structure is wildly unpredictable. Sure, there are many twists and turns along the way, but the most compelling aspect of Beau is Afraid is how it can change tones instantly and how Aster can quickly break into a laugh-out-loud moment in mere seconds.
A specific example I want to give away with the film is its funniest scene, but it’s a major spoiler so I won’t do it. I’ll just refer to this scene from Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler, which perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere Aster adopts throughout its 179 minutes.
However, know what type of film you’re going into. One second, you may be laughing your pants off. The other, you could very well s–– your pants in terror. The sound design is impeccable in making you feel all emotions. One thing’s for sure, you will NOT walk out of this movie feeling indifferent. You will be on one side of the aisle and vividly react to what you’ve just seen.
And even if you don’t like it, you can’t deny its incredible core performances. Joaquin Phoenix continues to prove why he’s one of the best actors working today, giving a portrayal that simultaneously seems close and vastly different from what he did with Joker. However, LuPone steals the show during the film’s final moments, where Aster pulls back the curtain on Beau’s tormented mind with extremely surprising (and potentially movie-breaking) results.
Lane, Ryan, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Richard Kind round up the supporting cast and deliver impeccable turns. Aster saves Kind for last in a magnifying scene that will enthrall or divide audiences. I’m a bit biased with Kind. He’s never given a bad performance and absolutely steals the spotlight away from Phoenix during the film’s final scene.
I’ll stop here and let you discover Beau is Afraid for yourself. With a relatively empty room, we had a rather intimate screening of the film, where we each vividly reacted to some of the strongest scenes of the movie, either with a huge laugh, visible and audible disgust, or an audience member blurting out WHAT THE FU— at the film’s biggest WTF moment.
One thing’s for sure: you will never forget a film like Beau is Afraid. I don’t think Aster will make another movie as grand, wildly unpredictable, silly, and downright insulting to the audience’s patience and intelligence as this. Beau is Afraid may be the greatest troll since The Greasy Strangler, another masterpiece of absurdist cinema that I am not ashamed to love unabashedly. There have been lots of hyperbolic reactions when it comes to this film, but you shouldn’t listen to any of them. Make up your own mind about it instead.
Beau is Afraid is now playing in theaters. What did you think about the movie? What will happen next with Ari Aster’s career? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on social media!
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