Beau Is Afraid Review
A24 presents Beau is Afraid written and directed by Ari Aster and starring Joaquin Phoenix. The film follows Beau (Phoenix), a mild-mannered anxious man who embarks on an Odyssey to return home for his mother’s funeral. What ensues is a series of harrowing events that continually escalate in harm and trauma. Beau is Afraid is not afraid to make the audience uncomfortable, and exponentially doubles down with each passing hour.
It Looks and Sounds Great
Beau is Afraid is a brilliantly crafted film on all technical aspects. The cinematography and editing are majestically intertwined to create true Hollywood magic. One of my favorite parts of the film was the transitions from stationary shots that transition with the use of light or slight character displacements that evoke powerful emotions. There are also moving transitions that use color to wash the screen. The visual jumps from shot to shot are beautiful. There are a lot of incredible shots that really add depth to each scene. Plus the set design is brilliant and full of clues to a pointless mystery.
The sound design and engineering will keep audiences uncomfortable. There’s never really enough time to adjust or fully take in the events of the film. The genius use of sound works to overwhelm and completely underwhelm, creating some of the most intense moments of emotional whiplash in recent cinema. At times the sound enhances the visuals, at others, it completely contrasts them. There’s a purposely uneven rhythm to it all that keeps the audience squirming.
Joaquin Phoenix is Amazing But Only Gets to do One Thing
The audio and visual experience follows Joaquin Phoenix’s harrowing journey as Beau. Phoenix is an absolute force in the film and gives an award-worthy performance. Watching him endure the escalating madness of the film is absolutely heartbreaking. Phoenix captures the audience immediately and holds on to them for dear life through every gut-wrenching event that befalls Beau in the film. However, as incredible as Phoenix’s performance is, it is a single-note performance.
Phoenix performs the hell out of this role. But the role is in fact hell. Each and every new event just hurts and harms Beau. Countless forms of physical and mental anguish and trauma are inflicted on Beau, each somehow worse than the last. While Phoenix brings a fully vigorous performance to each new traumatic experience, by the second-hour audience members are no longer hoping he catches a break, and just hoping he stops getting hurt, in whatever form that takes.
While there are numerous other supporting roles in the film, it all just blurs into people being the worse possible person they can be, who can hide how terrible they are, or who are going to be fodder. Their only purpose is to act as plot devices that will lead to more pain on and for Beau.
Everything is Mom’s Fault
This comes to my problem with Beau is Afraid, it’s all about mommy issues. The best thing I can say about this movie is that Ari Aster is trying to embarrass his mom and tell the world she’s a terrible person. It’s either that, or he is using his obvious talent as a storyteller to give anyone willing to watch his movie the finger. Without any direct spoilers, everything boils down to mommy issues. Beau’s mom is overbearing and took out her trauma on her son. In attempts to correct her issues, she makes bad choices. It’s a story of a fraught parent-child relationship and generational trauma, to a deranged extreme, from someone who wants to point the blame and offer no solutions.
It feels like an outsider’s perspective when the emotions of such an abusive and manipulative relationship are mimicked, ; someone who thoroughly knows the subject but has zero understanding, then proceeds to play with it with no regard for the consequences. It’s done very well by a master of storytelling, but it also feels like the wrong person to tell this story, on a very primal level. The best way explain the feeling is the spider telling the fly’s story.
Beau is Afraid is an audio and visual masterpiece with an award-worthy lead. That doesn’t fix that it will leave a terrible taste in your mouth. Ari Aster wields his mastery of storytelling to painfully drag audiences to witness an incredible setup of dominoes; only to forcefully prevent them from seeing any domino fall. I’m sure the most pretentious of critics will defend his brilliance and belittle any who dare wish for the storyteller to follow through with their own story. But personally, I’m not advocating for people to spend their money to let a guy prove to he aced his screenwriting class and then flip them off.
For emotionally manipulating an audience for a 3-hour dick joke, I give Beau is Afraid a 5 out of 10.
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