Beau is Afraid
beau is afraid | ari aster | joaquin phoenix | patti lupone | amy ryan | surreal | comedy | drama | united states | united kingdom | finland | nathan lane | kylie rogers | denis menochet | parker posey | zoe lister-jones | armen nahapetian | julia antonelli | richard kind
Film: Beau is Afraid
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone and Amy Ryan
This is a wild movie. I wanted to see it when I heard Ari Aster wrote and directed. Even more so because it had Joaquin Phoenix starring. I missed this opening week, as it came out at the same time as Evil Dead Rise. The runtime on this also scared me a bit. To see this at the theater, I have an infant so staying awake can be difficult. I found time on a Sunday for it and made it a featured review when I learned it was horror. I’ve also now given it a second watch to see where I stand.
Synopsis: 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.
Now this is a movie that is going to be divisive and questioning what genre it should be. Comedy and drama are the first two. This movie goes down, probably more into the dark comedy realm, but I can also see the horror elements as well. I thought that I needed this disclaimer here before I gave my recap.
We are following Beau Wassermann (Phoenix). We originally see him in therapy with a character played by Stephen McKinley Henderson. Beau is supposed to be going to visit his mother, Mona (Patti LuPone). His therapist asks about how feels since it has been a while. Beau doesn’t answer the question. He also doesn’t think it has been that long. Beau is also asked about his medication and he is prescribed a different one. It is made specifically clear to take with water.
It is from there that we see where this man lives. He is scared and the area looks rough. There is a dead man on the ground that people ignore. He is chased by a tattooed man into his building. Beau tries to get sleep, but a neighbor keeps putting notes under his door to keep the television sound down. His TV is off though. This gives Beau anxiety to the point where he oversleeps. When he goes to leave, his luggage and key are stolen. He has been ignoring his mother’s phone calls and dreads telling her what happened. She is disappointed to hear that he isn’t coming. Beau tries to make it work.
This leads to a series of unfortunate events. People from the neighborhood get into his apartment and tear it up. He is hit by a car, then nursed back to health by a family messed up from the loss of their son. They are Grace (Amy Ryan) and Roger (Nathan Lane). He also has a run in with their daughter, Toni (Kylie Rogers) and Jeeves (Denis Ménochet), a man who served with their son in the military. We also get to see events from Beau’s past with his mother that shaped him into who he is. Things aren’t as they are and how we perceive ourselves is different from those around us. Beau is forced to face the facts and stand up for what he believes to survive.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. If you couldn’t tell, this is a hard one to talk about. Visually this movie is stunning. I’ll go ahead and say that the surreal, dreamlike feel is wonderful. It almost feels like a fairy tale that is still grounded. I did rather enjoy this aspect of the movie. I’ll credit the cinematography here for that. It blurs the lines of reality and quite a bit of that is due to the character of Beau. We are seeing things from his perspective.
When the lights came on after watching this, I was wondering what I had just seen. What is interesting about this though is that how this wraps up, it explains it at the conclusion. I did pick up on it right before that as well. I’m not fully sure if I got everything though. With a second viewing, I’m still not entirely sure. This is a movie about guilt and codependency. This came from Lane, who appears in the movie as Roger. When I saw that, it helped click things home. I’m still not going to spoil this and I’m not entirely sure I could anyway. This is more about seeing and experiencing what Beau does.
Let’s look at this main character more. Beau is a loser of sorts. I feel bad saying that, but this is what Aster was going for. I did see that in the trivia as well. He lacks confidence. What is also interesting is that he can’t make decisions either. When bad things happen to prevent him from making his flight, his mother guilts him into still coming. I’ve felt bad about not being able to travel to see friends and family. Sometimes life doesn’t work out and you just must figure out what to do from there. Beau doesn’t do this though. This also makes him a pushover. He is a timid man which contributes as well. Phoenix does an amazing job with his portrayal here. Seeing the different things that he goes through is amazing.
Sticking with this, I want to bring back up something that I said earlier about the surreal feel. We see things from the point of view of Beau. Is the neighborhood he lives in good? No, but is it as bad as he perceives it? Probably not. There are also little things that Beau sees that will correlate back into things later. I’m more aware of what is going on when it comes to an Aster movie as I know that he is meticulous. I’m glad though hence why I say this is one to pay attention to. The idea of codependency is another one to look at. Beau as a young man, he is played by Armen Nahapetian, goes on a cruise with his mother. Her younger version is played by Zoe Lister-Jones. It is on this cruise that he meets Elaine (Julia Antonelli) and falls in love. She tells him something and he hangs on to it well into his adult life. Beau also heavily relies on his therapist, mother and most everyone he meets to tell him what to do too.
I’m not sure if there is more that I can say with the story so then over to the rest of the cast. I think this works in such quirky ways. LuPone doesn’t show until late, but I like how she factors in with Beau. Ryan, Lane, Rogers, Ménochet, Parker Posey, Lister-Jones, Nahapetian, Antonelli, Henderson, Richard Kind, Hayley Squires and even Julian Richings are all in this and create interesting characters. There isn’t a bad performance here. They all play different parts in directing Beau to where he ends up and it works.
All that is left then is with the filmmaking. I’ve already said how good the cinematography is. The effects are also solid. What is interesting there is that I’m not actually sure how much of these we get. There is a surreal, dreamlike feel. Because of that, I think that they work. I can be forgiving. This also becomes a nightmare at times and this is where horror elements come in. Do I fully think this fall into genre? No, but I’m not sure where else you’d put this. Other than that, the soundtrack also helps to build this atmosphere as well.
This idea, if this is horror or not is where I want to delve just a bit more. Now the fear here comes from Beau not being able to decide. Dr. Cohen (Kind) makes Beau feel bad when he’s staying with Grace and Roger. They’re waiting for him to start the funeral. Beau doesn’t want to put out this couple that is helping him. This gave me anxiety watching this. Jeeves also seems to be hunting him after what Grace and their daughter Toni tell him. We see the life that Beau could lead if he made decisions. That end is heartbreaking. The biggest thing though that pushes this into horror though is the showdown at Mona’s house. We see that Beau might be repressing certain things and there is a monster hiding away there as well. Not traditional horror and for most, it doesn’t go far enough. It is close enough for me.
In conclusion, there isn’t much more than I can say about this movie. It is a journey for sure. We have an amazing performance from Phoenix, but I come to expect that. There is a great cast around him. I like the story that this is telling. There is more under the surface and how things are presented helps with this atmosphere. It has things that aren’t natural. We are also seeing things from the distorted reality of a troubled mind. After that second watch, I think its solidified itself in my end of year, top 10 list. I can’t recommend this to everyone, but if you are into A24 or Aster, give this one a watch. It is one of his more ambitious efforts from strong, young filmography.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10