The author-director Ari Aster—who splashed onto the scene with 2018’s grief-horror Hereditary earlier than staging this century’s most disturbingly lovely breakup in 2019’s Midsommar—has taken a pointy left flip for his third function, Beau Is Afraid (in theaters April 14). Whereas the movie definitely has its scary moments, it’s extra of a comedy than a horror movie, although its epic sprawl is fretful and sad. Aster’s movie is singular, whereas steeped in lots of influences.
Possibly the closest comparability can be to the work of Charlie Kaufman, that consummate surrealist whose wildest flights of fancy can nonetheless be boiled all the way down to on a regular basis anxieties. Like Kaufman, Aster appears preoccupied with fears of mortality and nettled by his tortured relationships with ladies, all of the whereas cowed by the huge and messy mechanics of the world. Additionally like Kaufman, Aster can let his free-wheeling ambition get the very best of him.
In Beau Is Afraid, Joaquin Phoenix performs the titular scaredy-cat, a hapless middle-aged man residing in a decaying metropolis riven with avenue violence. All Beau needs to do—or, actually, all he’s attempting to do—is get out of city to see his mom, Mona (Patti LuPone), whose specter looms over the film to more and more suffocating impact. However he’s routinely thwarted on his journey by a sort of cosmic dangerous luck that can, finally, be sourced again to his personal stifling neuroses. In fact, it’s actually Aster’s hand, not the cosmos, guiding all of this. Beau Is Afraid is a film that opens with a remedy session as a approach, maybe, to point that the movie itself is an act of study for its maker.
Beau’s condo is taken over and ransacked by a band of vagrants. He receives horrible, ugly information about his mom after which will get hit by a automobile. When he wakes up, he’s laid up in the home of a seemingly pleasant couple, Grace (Amy Ryan) and Roger (Nathan Lane), who regularly reveal sinister motivations. Beau flees to the woods the place he meets a theater troupe and goes on a fantastical journey of (I feel?) the thoughts. And, lastly, he reckons with the girl who bore him and who so persistently vexes him, attending to his personal tangled psychosexual afflictions within the course of.
Learn a technique, this can be a remarkably frank and revelatory movie: Aster making manifest his dreadfully energetic psyche in order that we could higher perceive him. (And, I assume, ourselves.) There’s satire embedded inside, a grand hyperbole about Jewish boys and their mothers, concerning the embarrassments of transferring via the world as a nebbish frightened by their shadow and everybody else’s. Beau’s hypochondria, these ludicrously violent streets, that smothering gorgon of a mom? They’re all exaggerated to skewer Beau’s, and by extension Aster’s, inane and petty viewpoint, a confession of mortifying straight-male solipsism (and weak point) that indicts solely its goal.
One other interpretation is that, in all its ornate self-reference, Beau Is Afraid isn’t that self-aware in any respect. One might learn Beau’s entanglements with ladies extra as affirmation than commentary. Possibly the film’s depiction of city hellscapes—eerily much like these imagined by the suitable lately—is at the least barely satisfied it’s right. That definitely wouldn’t be a really beneficiant tackle the movie, however Beau Is Afraid provides us three hours wherein to doubt and realign any concept of what it’s attempting to say.
It’s a relentless expertise, a tumble into darkish absurdity that positive factors extra abstraction because it goes. Phoenix is in full dazed, whimpering mode, maybe my least favourite of his variations. We aren’t trotting alongside Beau on his trek towards doom or salvation a lot as we’re dragged behind him. Aster’s previous movies have their very own punishing qualities, however Beau is a brand new take a look at of endurance and endurance. If this movie is an act of discuss remedy, it’s a scream session, extra digressive rant than breakthrough. Classes are realized by the tip of the movie, however they arrive as a snickering joke, a pathetic epiphany that in mocking a specific male obsession nonetheless venerates it.
This makes for a irritating viewing expertise. But Beau Is Afraid can be stuffed with unusual magnificence, moments when Aster slows his manic shedding of self-importance (and his expression of it) and permits for some poetry. A honest disappointment stalks the movie, because it has in all of Aster’s work. It’s exhausting to not seize onto that, to achieve for the frail factor on the heart of the movie and attempt to join. A few of the movie’s extra harrowing or violent interludes are efficient, too; Aster’s eye for spectacle is alluringly shrewd and peculiar. Beau Is Afraid is large, declarative cinema. Irksome (or worse) as a number of the movie could also be, it has a gravitational pull. I stayed seated at the hours of darkness, pressed into my chair, till the tip credit had been completed rolling.
The movie’s most persuasive case is made by LuPone, a titan of the American stage who tears right into a uncommon big-screen function. I received’t spoil precisely what kind she takes in Beau Is Afraid, however when she reveals up, the movie reverently stops to concentrate. LuPone delivers a towering monologue that does extra to solid the movie into horror and excessive drama than do any of Aster’s technical thrives. It’s in all of LuPone’s histrionics that the movie by some means finds its grounding, tethering the wild flail of the movie to the human ache and terror that animates it.
Possibly Mona is solely the chief emblem of the film’s sneaking mistrust of ladies. Or possibly Aster is ceding Beau’s mom (and his personal?) all the facility. Mona might be the power cracking open the troubling argument of the movie to disclose the actual, particular squirm of Aster’s intent. No matter LuPone is doing, it’s simple. Right here, lengthy right into a meandering and fitfully rewarding movie, is one thing worthy of concern—or possibly it’s awe.