Release Date – 19th May 2023, Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 58 minutes, Director – Ari Aster
After learning of his mother’s (Patti LuPone) passing Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) must leave his flat to return home as quickly as possible, however along the way his anxiety is the least of his troubles.
For the first hour of writer-director Ari Aster’s Beau Is Afraid we’re firmly in Beau Wassermann’s (Joaquin Phoenix) mind. A realm of anxiety perhaps overemphasising the world around him. The street he lives on, whilst holding street performers and food vendors, houses fights, eye-gougings, knife fights, murders, drive-bys and more, for him it’s a constant source of worry and panic. The early events feel like if a Charlie Kaufman script met a pessimistic Wes Anderson with plenty of bizarre yet enjoyable situations occurring. While it’s easy to see the drama in the fantastical lengths of the central character’s anxiety there’s plenty of opportunity for comedy to be found in the exact same elements.
On discovering that his mother (Patti LuPone) has passed away Beau must risk leaving his flat to get back home as quickly as possible. He’s told on the phone by someone close to her that everyone is waiting for him, the guilt settles in further when he’s told “every minute that we wait adds to the humiliation”. However, it’s a long road to get there with much worse events and happenings than his frequently panicking mind could conjure up. The fantastical nature begins to fade with the feeling of anxiety alongside it (Aster manages to capture anxiety without pushing it on to the audience with worry and tension like in a Safdie brothers feature).
Instead, as Beau finds himself confronting both the world around him and his relationship with his mother – which we briefly see him hesitantly discussing with his therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) at the start of the film – we see a handful of flashbacks to his past. It’s such moments, alongside a lengthy not-quite-dream sequence, that provide the film with it’s almost three hour run-time. As a whole it doesn’t feel overly lengthy – although it’s apparent that a good few minutes could be trimmed off from the longer elements, and perhaps some situations altogether – but you do question the relevance of such moments at times, particularly the more they go on. It feels as if the film is trying to say something or get somewhere but is trying to build-up to something so in the distance that it never quite includes the right details.
As Beau progresses on his journey he meets various figures from a family who take him in (played by Amy Smart, Nathan Lane and Kylie Rogers) – a set of events which eventually feel as if they go a bit overboard in the final stages – a set of performing travellers (primarily one played by Hayley Squires) and more. Each section feels different in style and feels as if it drifts away from the initial structuring and direction. Not to say that everything should be like the first hour in Beau’s world of familiarity; although some of the most engaging content lies here. More that things feel as if the more they move away from this the more the film as a whole begins to lose itself.
Elements of strangeness come back into play but they never quite have the same feeling as beforehand and instead leave you slightly baffled as to what is going on. Events are drawn out further in the third act where you’re largely led by slight interest over engagement. There are still certain points to like (Phoenix is, as you would expect, very good in the lead role, particularly in the way his character holds himself) and enough to generally keep you going, however, as mentioned, the events begin to get lost in themselves as things change quite considerably from what has come beforehand; admittedly with some developments. What starts off as an engaging, and rather entertaining, world of chaos and anxiety from the central character’s perspective begins to slide away from itself into something increasingly tangled up and less clear as to where it’s going or what it’s doing.
Starting off with an engaging and creative style Beau Is Afraid begins to lose itself with each new stylistic change and diversion. There may still be interest in where it’s going to go but it’s certainly not always clear as to what it’s trying to say or doing in sequences where the narrative drifts away.