By Maia Venuti
After nearly four grueling years, critically acclaimed director Ari Aster released his third feature film “Beau is Afraid” on April 21. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character, we follow Beau, a paranoid and anxiety-filled man, on his odyssey back home to his mother’s house. While that premise seems simple enough, it quickly derails and morphs into a three hour long “nightmare comedy.”
Aster’s two previous films are “Hereditary” (2018) and my No. 1 favorite movie “Midsommar” (2019), and if you are familiar with his work, you know what he is capable of. This movie is, for lack of a better word, insane. Every situation that Beau finds himself in quickly devolves into utter chaos and disaster, despite his constant paranoia about confrontation. Beau is the kind of character that you just can’t help but feel empathy and pity for.
He is arguably the most unlucky man ever, as no matter what the situation and no matter how much Beau tries to stoke the fires he encounters, he is always met with a raging inferno. Joaquin Phoenix does a terrific job in his portrayal of Beau. I never got bored of his acting or character in the entire three hour run time, which is saying a lot.
The film deeply explores Beau’s mental illnesses, as well as where his mental illness and trauma stem from — namely his mother, Mona. Mona is played by Broadway icon and acclaimed actress Patti LuPone, and she does a perfect job. LuPone’s performance was absolutely jaw dropping, and I had goosebumps the entire time she was on screen. She was probably one of the most wicked mothers I have seen in any film, a true villain in every sense of the word. If there is one thing Aster has proven time and time again throughout his career, it is that he knows how to write a messed up and broken family dynamic — and he hit the bullseye yet again in this case.
There have been a lot of mixed reviews for “Beau is Afraid,” with a lot of complaints being around the film’s pacing, but I disagree. Some viewers have said that they felt the film really slows down in the middle and just takes a long time to pick up. I kept an eye out for that, and I am unsure of where the “slow” part in this film is. I think there are times where things are more mellow, but the calm times are so needed throughout a movie like this.
Another critique I saw people have was that the film's “big reveal” felt very obvious, and that where it was leading was very clear. This is a critique I really do not understand, as there is absolutely no way to tell where this movie was leading. The way this film unravels makes everything so unpredictable that, even when I had my own guesses on what would happen next, I was shocked at how it would unfold. There are things that I correctly guessed would happen, but still nothing about it felt obvious because of the utter absurdity of the film.
It is also crucial to note that with Aster, this film was something he has been planning for the better part of a decade. He originally made it as a short film a decade prior, but knew he wanted to expand it into his full vision one day. Aster’s primary audience for making this film is himself, and to me that is so apparent. There is so much passion put into this film, and it is so clear that he has been working for years to bring this to fruition.
I loved the wild ride that “Beau is Afraid” took me on. Aster once again hit the nail right on the head and continues to prove himself as a brilliant and revolutionary director. However, I do not think I would recommend this film casually, as many people would not like it. I think you should decide for yourself if this is an adventure you want to embark on.