Beau Is Afraid – Film Review

Ari Aster has to be one of the most interesting directors in modern day cinema. On one hand he makes a film nearly impossible to decipher in Hereditary, but on the other hand he can make a work of art like Midsumma. With that in mind, I found myself approaching his latest film Beau Is Afraid with nervous excitement.

What I didn’t expect was for the film to be a mixture of both his good and bad sides. Yes, this feels like a film of two halves; the first being creative and captivating and the second so dull and obscure that I can only imagine there will be some walkouts and catch-up sleep involved for the average cinema goer.

Aster’s newest creation centres around the anxiety-ridden Beau Wassermann (Joaquin Phoenix). Beau lives in constant fear of his environment but decides that he has enough courage to go and visit his mother, Mona (Patti LuPone), who is a successful businesswoman and has lost faith in Beau years earlier.

Of course, Beau’s trip doesn’t go to plan with his fear soon over-riding his intentions. But his life suddenly takes another turn when he finds himself trapped with an over-bearing couple after he is run over by Grace (Amy Ryan) and is treated by her surgeon husband, Roger (Nathan Lane).

As the couple try to ‘adopt’ Beau, their daughter, Toni (Kylie Rogers) decides that she is going to do whatever it takes to make Beau’s life a misery. Meanwhile, Beau is concerned about his welfare and just wants to escape to continue his journey to see his mother.

I don’t think I have ever seen a movie that has divided me between like and hate so much. I found the first half of the movie to be pure genius. The way that Aster depicts the environment around Beau is captivating and is something that we have never seen on screen before. The film was working so well that it totally engrossed me. Even the black comedy parts were hitting the mark and I found myself laughing throughout.

But then came the second half of the film where Aster decides to push the envelope. Firstly, there was an animated sequence that could have worked, except for the fact that it lasted way too long and from there everything just fell apart. It felt like once Aster brought in the animated element, he then wanted to see how weird he could take this film. As it dragged on, I found myself praying for the end credits. I found I had to endure a totally absurd finale that was almost an insult to the genius of the start of the film.

As someone who likes experimental cinema, I can only wonder how the average cinema goer is going to cope with this film. In my mind, I found myself comparing what I was watching to Triangle Of Sadness, a film that I loved. But while the absurdist parts of that film remain within the audience’s imagination, what I saw attempted with Beau Is Afraid does not succeed and turns into a complete mess.

The one thing that remains solid throughout is the performance of Joaquin Phoenix. As usual, he is brilliant and once again delivers no matter how absurd the scene is that he must act out.

Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan also deliver good performances. Their scenes alongside Phoenix are amazing and almost seem so intimate to the audience, you can easily believe that you are watching theatre instead of cinema. Parker Posey and Patti LuPone are also excellent later in the film and it is just a shame that their screen-time comes once the film has overstayed its welcome.

Had Beau Is Afraid continued with the brilliant writing and creative environment that it started with, then I would believe it would be a shoo-in for major award success. But as it is, Ari Aster tries to be too artistic to the point that the spectacle ends up detracting from the story.

Aster went from making a great film about what it is like to suffer from anxiety, to making a film that is so absurd that it loses the concentration of its audience. I really feel for Joaquin Phoenix because he has put in one of the best performances of the year in Beau Is Afraid, a film that I sadly would now have to call a dud.

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