The Movie Waffler New to VOD - BEAU IS AFRAID | The Movie Waffler


A man embarks on a surreal journey to attend his mother's funeral.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ari Aster

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Kylie Rogers, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires, Michael Gandolfini, Zoe Lister-Jones, Richard Kind, Armen Nahapetian, Denis Ménochet

Beau is Afraid poster

"I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed." At some point in your life you've probably heard those awful words wielded by your mother, and unless you're a complete narcissist, they're as crushing as a bad medical diagnosis. Nobody wants to disappoint their mother, yet most of us inevitably do to some degree. Mothers have ideas about who their children should become, which of course is unfair, and few of us follow the path our moms would prefer. If you become the vice-president of a nation your mother will probably find a way to make you feel bad for not becoming the president. Every ethnicity seems to believe this is something specific to their culture, but it's universal. That's just how mothers are.

Writer/director Ari Aster has called Beau is Afraid "Jewish Lord of the Rings," but you don't need to be one of the chosen people for its central theme of the terror of letting your mom down resonate.

Beau is Afraid review

Joaquin Phoenix plays Beau, a neurotic middle-aged man who lives in an exaggeratedly crime-ridden city not dissimilar to that seen in Alan Arkin's Little Murders. The day to day grind of urban life is heightened in an absurdist manner in the French tradition of Jacques Tati and Bertrand Blier's Buffet Froid. Simply getting into his apartment brings Beau the potential of being attacked by naked knife-wielding maniacs, and there's a deadly spider on the loose somewhere in his building. But worst of all, Beau has to contend with a trip home to see his mother (played by Patti LuPone and in flashbacks by Zoe Lister-Jones). When various circumstances conspire to make him miss his flight, Beau is shocked when he calls home and finds his mother has been killed in a freak accident. This leads him on an often surreal adventure as he tries to get home for the funeral.

Aster's film is split roughly into four distinct acts, with the second segment seeing him wake up in the home of a WASPy couple (Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan), after being hit by their car. Renoir's Boudo Saved from Drowning seems to be the template as Beau finds himself stuck with this family that presents itself as well-adjusted but seems to harbour secrets. The nods to French cinema continue with the casting of Denis Ménochet in a hilarious silent role as a PTSD suffering ex-soldier living in a trailer in the family's garden, constantly staring like at Beau like Annie Hall's grandmother in Woody Allen's film. The feeling Beau gets that this family's outward hospitality may be masking dark intentions is probably representative of the experience of Jewish Americans around their Christian neighbours.

Beau is Afraid review

As someone who really didn't care for Aster's previous films, Hereditary and Midsommar, these first two segments came as a pleasant surprise. Aster proves himself a master of absurdist comedy, and understands just how to stretch a scenario for comic effect. In Phoenix he's found the perfect comic foil, and simply watching the actor's hapless reactions to the increasing absurdities surrounding him is enough to have you chuckling.

This movie is three hours long however, and boy does that last hour drag. The comedy becomes less effective and the filmmaking more blunt as Beau makes his way closer to his mother's home and Aster begins to address his mommy issues in a manner that feels at once self-indulgent and borrowed from the work of others. It all ends with a setup straight out of Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life, and by that point even a cameo by the great Richard Kind can't prevent you from wishing the credits would roll.

Beau is Afraid review

It may be worth enduring that exhausting final hour for the comic thrills of the first two, though it's a style of comedy that not everyone gels with. If you like the movies of Ruben Ostlund, Quentin Dupieux, Peter Strickland and Yorgos Lanthimos, you should be able to get on board with this, though all of those filmmakers have managed to employ absurdism in a more accessible manner. Fans of Aster's horror movies may well find this one a baffling turn, while those of us who didn't care for his genre works will probably be relieved. With its mixture of self-indulgence and comic brilliance, Beau is Afraid may well make you angry, but fans of surrealism and absurdism won't be disappointed.

Beau is Afraid
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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