Beau is Afraid Review- An Ambitious Yet Self-Indulgent Third Outing for Aster

Ari Aster came onto the scene back in 2018 with the first of his two big hits, Hereditary about a family who is haunted by an apparition, and in 2020 with Midsommar about a group of young people who get more than what they bargained for when they go to a commune in Sweden. Suffice it to say, his latest film Beau Is Afraid has been highly anticipated by fans of the writer/director and critics alike.

Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) is a neurotic man who lives in an apartment in a rough area of town. He has trouble sleeping and has several different anxieties. He goes to a shrink to talk with him about his history with his mother. He has a very difficult relationship with her. She is a bit overprotective of him at times. Which causes much of his medical issues. He wouldn’t be the first or the last as far as that goes. Aster has made this film somewhat autobiographical but at the same time weird, wacky, and off-the-wall crazy.

Aster has done some unusual things in his films in the past but this film is probably the poster child for the unusual. The story has about six or seven sequences all following Phoenix on his journey of existentialism. Along his journey of blood and pain, he meets some interesting people. Among them are a family that took him in after he was hit by their vehicle. A doctor played by Nathan Lane and his wife played by Amy Ryan. They are very query and weird but their daughter Toni Kylie Rogers) takes the cake. She is mostly high on drugs and is resentful of Beau because he has been recovering in her bedroom which is full of BTS posters and has pink walls. She is crazy.

Some other sequences are an animation where Beau is an old man; he takes viewers through his life using an amateurish style of animation. A scene is set in the woods where a pregnant woman talks to him about her community and how they are setting up for a play before they move on to the next place they are settling down in. Aster starts this movie out in a weird state and never lets up. This is definitely his most ambiguous film yet. Even though it’s weird it has a sense of real life thrown in if you know what to look for.

Joaquin Phoenix has finally won an Academy Award for playing a version of the Joker in the film named after the character. It has a sequel on the way called Folie a Deux co-starring Lady Gaga. His career before his award-winning season has been quite amazing. His role as Commodus in Gladiator should have won him an Oscar but it didn’t dissuade him from taking great roles in Her about a man who falls in love with a computer operating system. Music icon Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and a man who will not conform to anybody or anything in The Master. This is probably the most off-the-wall character he’s ever played but we as the audience can relate to him in a way. We’ve all had that overbearing parent, sibling, or relative that has caused us a lot of mental/physical pain and anguish. He is incredible in the role of this man who doesn’t know what the heck is going on in his life.

A minor issue I had with the film is that I thought it could have been told in a shorter period. I know what people will say all films are as long or short as they are supposed to be. Unfortunately, that idiom is wrong in this case. Aster indulges himself too much in the movie regarding its length. A couple of these sequences could have been taken out and it would have still told the same message. And it would have been just as effective in telling its story. Sometimes films are just too long. And directors are too indulgent without some oversized from producers or studio heads pulling the reins. 

As a person who has had issues with my father, I can relate to this story to some extent. And I’ve been a coach. So parents who try to live vicariously through their children are something I’ve seen a lot in my day. That happens all the time in youth sports. This mother figure is a control freak and just won’t let her son live his life even when he finally has what has always wanted in his life. She makes him feel bad about it. Various age points show some of these issues he has with his mother. At one time he has a crush on a young girl his own age and he meets up with her as an adult played by Parker Posey. He can’t control himself. Until his mother ruins it for him. This truly let me down. I was rooting for him.

Beau is Afraid is an ambitious and self-indulgent film that goes on for a little too long for my liking. The message he is going for is a good one. He obviously has issues with his mother. He wouldn’t be the only one. Phoenix gives another stellar performance as this awkward neurotic man. He has basically been driven to take medication and to see a shrink because of his overbearing mother. The various sequences were interesting but there were a few too many of them. This causes the film to be a little longer than necessary. Otherwise, I liked most of what I saw. And Aster is three for three in my book.

3 ½ stars 

Dan Skip Allen

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