- Movie Rating -

Beau is Afraid (2023)

| April 26, 2023

In the wake of two grand horror epics, Hereditary and Midsommar, director Ari Aster was asked what he might be doing next.  He hinted that he might want to try a comedy – something a bit away from his previous work.  That’s probably best.  I think, by this point, he’s pretty much sapped the horror genre.  A comedy would do nicely, I thought.

Beau is Afraid is his idea of a comedy, a bizarre adventure somewhere between Franz Kafka and Monty Python with a lot of weird characters, a lot of weird ideas but – alas – when it’s over, you’re not 100% sure what you’ve just seen.  It is equal parts funny and horrifying which, if you’ve seen his previous films, is not surprising.  I just wish that I had a better sense of what the movie was trying to say.  It’s so random that often I just got lost.

The movie starts out brilliantly, introducing us to an insular nebbish named Beau Wasserman (Joaquin Phoenix) who lives in a tiny apartment in a version of New York in which the denizens in the street are fueled by violence and at least some form of mental affliction.  Citizens fight one another in the street, murder is commonplace and there’s always a dead body in plain sight.  Police sirens are always in the air but one has to wonder what’s the point since law and order seem non-existent.

The hellish landscape outside is matched by Beau’s anxieties.  He sees a therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) on a regular basis to discuss his mother issues and to be issued medication of questionable value – it must be taken with water!  This is matched by flashbacks to his youth in which his overbearing mother seems to stifle all attempts at independence or growth on his part.  Nothing that happens to Beau, we come to understand, is really all his fault.

Seeking to escape this urban hellhole, Beau plans to catch a flight out to see his mother, we gather on her command.  But he oversleeps and misses his flight due to an unseen neighbor who keeps slipping notes under his door requesting that he turn his music down despite the fact that Beau’s apartment is silent.  That’s part of the film’s running gag in which he is constantly being accused of doing things that he clearly isn’t doing.

Missing his flight becomes a world-altering event in Beau’s experience, particularly when he calls his mother to tell her what happened and the phone is answered by a UPS man (Bill Hader) who claims to have walked into her home and discovered a body without a head.  Is this mother?  What to do?  Given the violent nature of the world outside, we’re not surprised when the first act ends with Beau being hit by a car.

Astor never settles on one thing for too long and Beau is Afraid is a movie with many parts to play, many acts and many legs of our protagonist’s journey.  Without giving away too much (not that I really could) let’s just say that this is a journey of escalating frustration, both for the character and for me.  That car accident spins Beau into a series of adventures that get more and more bizarre, and none of which are as cohesive or as interesting as the first act.  There is a couple (Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan) who bring him into their home and tend to his wounds but won’t let him leave.  There’s a theater troupe in the woods whose latest performance spins Beau into a long-form fantasy that suggests what his life could be like.  There’s an assassin hell-bent on murdering him for, again, something he didn’t do.  And there’s a third act that, for me, was beyond comprehension.

Aster’s screenplay carries a lot on its shoulders but, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t always able to understand what was happening from one moment to the next.  This is one of those movies that will be analyzed to death by YouTube creators when it starts streaming.  I wish them luck.  Maybe they’ll understand it a little better than I did.

I don’t want to sound like I am dismissing the movie all together.  There are individual scenes, individual moments that I loved, but they were saddled with long, meandering set pieces that tried my patience and other scenes that ultimately lead nowhere.  I was alternately fascinated and frustrated and from this director, that’s makes for an exhausting experience.

Aster calls this his “Jewish Lord of the Rings” in which the destination is his mom’s house.  And, yeah, I see that, particularly in the final act, but that didn’t make it any more comprehensible.  I like Aster’s work.  It is challenging in the extreme and always fresh and new – which in this period of reboots, remakes and franchises, is exactly what is needed.  Beau is Afraid is not a bad movie, I just wish I could understand a little more of what he was trying to do here.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2023) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Drama