To say that Beau is afraid is the understatement of the year. It would be more appropriate to state it as “Beau is fucking terrified of every single thing imaginable.” A schlepp of a man, Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) is the epitome of where all our anxiety goes when it is not just as its worst, but also in full control causing it to have in fact no control at all. In simpler terms, Beau is a total shitshow. But erratic and terrified messes are what writer and director Ari Aster loves to embrace. The horror filmmaker who launched onto the scene with 2018’s Hereditary and 2019’s Midsommar is the new product of film twitter, A24 obsessed meme makers that you often forget there is an actual film behind the internet dialogue. Like, love or even despise his work, Aster finds a way to provoke even if the provoking itself s the thing that begins the conversation. But all this shows there is a ton in Aster’s mind and even more so there is a ton of anxiety. So why not let it pour out in a near 3 hour Odyssey epic that plays out like the worst guilt trip. BEAU IS AFRAID is not the horror landscape you’ve become used to after only two films, but instead an off the wall derailment that has more in common with an episode of Looney Tunes than Kaufman or Hitchcock (which the director tries to do). And much like a Bugs Bunny segment it is when it recognizes that it is a cartoon does it learn to have the most bizarre fun. Because after all nothing says laugh out loud riot like a never ending panic attack.

Thank god Beau has a therapist to talk to. It is the only time of his week that there is some level of sanity. Beau lives in an unnamed city where destruction is at every corner. Whether it be his destroyed apartment (giant deadly spider intact) or the countless people on the streets looting and shooting at one another for no specific reason. Is this all in Beau’s head? That is far from the question because regardless this is the reality we are given. Beau is too afraid to leave his house because he believes if he does, the people on the streets will overtake his home…which they do. Aster’s film can be seen as divided into several parts, the first being “the apartment” and it is here where he lets us know that even though this is Beau’s nightmare it is a segment full of glorious chaos, constant pratt falls from Phoenix and absurd proof that maybe Beau is in fact right about everything. But this source stems back (as it does for most) from his mother (Zoe Lister Jones in flashbacks). Beau is expected to make a trip home to visit his mother, and one that while nervous to do so quickly becomes a necessity when Beau learns some dire news. BEAU IS AFRAID is a road trip movie without any road. A travelers guide to hell and possibly never back.

Those familiar with Aster’s previous films know that some truly bizarre things are in store for the titular character. However unlike Hereditary or Midsommar this film feels like the first one where Aster’s more “shocking” moments find purpose or feel more in place. A filmmaker should never seek to shock the audience just to do so, and unlike the more grotesque sexual moments of Midsommar this film never toes the line of look at how weird I can be. As Beau encounters strange after strange which includes a grieving couple played by Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan, the script always finds placement for each action. You know the trip back home will not be an easy one nor will it be a short one, but Aster excels at building the frustration and hiding it behind lunacy. All is seen through the lens of Beau, but when peeled back one can observe the outcome that comes from having a train come crashing into your life. The film may be looked at as those that Beau encounters, but in fact it should be seen as the opposite and how a person like Beau truly destroys or rebuilds those he comes into contact with. Beau is not Bugs Bunny but instead Daffy Duck, someone who believes to be fit in his neurotic ways but falls apart at the mere sign of change. Phoenix as a performer enables all his nervous tics to the point of being just laughable (remember this is a comedy), it’s the physicality of Will Ferrell with the likeability of Jack Lemmon. Beau is more than likeable and honestly you feel for the guy, just like Lemon, but like Ferrell, you want to see him get thrown in front of a car naked. A great feat from one of our best working actors.

There will be an interesting discussion (if not hostile one) to see where many land on BEAU IS AFRAID, some may write it off as just another Aster freakshow (it is) while others may find a soul connection to the complications of Beau (good for them), and others may just see it for the less convoluted story that it is; a mere trip into the heartache of one man performed in the most comical way. A tragedy of errors if you’ll indulge. The film takes its time and delivers several moments of exciting peculiarity (an animation segment halfway is a huge treat), but regardless BEAU is engaging throughout even up to its final inevitable if not somewhat cop out ending. Here is the type of film that many will argue tries to be wittier than it actually is when in reality all BEAU and Aster are trying to do is have fun with their fears. There really isn’t much more to it than that no matter how hard of a string you pull. BEAU IS AFRAID is a cartoon sent here for quick bursts of enjoyment spread a long way, and if its good enough for Bugs Bunny and crew than its good enough for Aster. So That’s all folks! See you at the next one.  




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