Have you seen an Ari Aster film before? If yes, you’re not prepared for Beau is Afraid. Have you seen a Charlie Kaufman movie before – if yes, guess what you’re not ready for Beau is Afraid. Have you seen a film by Yorgos Lanthimos – you guessed it you’re not ready for Beau is Afraid. As a Jewish man whose relationship with his mother is complicated – to say in the least – Beau is Afraid is the mental breakdown I didn’t need to see visualized in front of me for nearly three hours. It is somehow Aster’s most accessible film to date while simultaneously being his least accessible and being his most horrifying with the least amount of shock (don’t worry there’s still plenty of shock just most of its dialed down for Aster standards). Beau is Afraid may be the most ambitious, insane, turbulent film I’ve ever seen and I firmly believe that Ari Aster himself would be delighted in knowing that my writing a review of his anxiety riddled roadmap to hell inside of himself and his audience is giving me a panic attack.
The film focuses on anxiety riddled passive Beau Wassermann played by Joaquin Phoenix as he is getting ready to visit his mother, Mona played by both Patti LuPone and Zoe Lister-Jones in flashbacks. While Beau clearly lives in what can be described as figurative hell, he is in constant fear of something bad happening, as he is literally running a marathon to get home so a clearly unwell tattooed man tries to chase him into what can be described as a dilapidated rundown safety hazard of a building. Upon entering his building there is a notice on his door about a poisonous spider in the building, delightful – the anxiety is already riled up – then we watch Beau watch a news report about a deranged serial killer called the Birthday Man – a naked man who just randomly stabs you. Beau is Afraid is a dark comedy, and is truly horrifying at how perfectly Ari Aster encapsulates the sheer hellmouth that is anxiety.
Beau leaves something in his apartment as he is ready to get to the airport to visit Mona, and as he goes to fetch his floss – because we can’t forget the floss – his keys and his bag are stolen. He calls his mother and delivers the news that he will be late and possibly not make it to see his mother, and the most horrifying tone and sentence was spewed back “it’s okay. I understand” and thus sets off the anxiety riddled mayhem that unfolds next. Without spoiling too much, Beau ends up in the care of Grace and Roger played by Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane respectfully as they have Beau descend into a further amount of sheer chaos and terror. The entire film focuses on Beau and his adventure to get to Mona and the anxiety riddled chaos that ensues.
There is really no tangible way to describe what goes on in Beau is Afraid, just like an anxiety attack you can describe parts, you can verbalize feelings and thoughts but most of it ends up an incoherent mess. Beau is Afraid is a film that is meant for someone who suffers from ADD or ADHD because it bounces around so much and has so much to say and just switches gears so often. It is an anxiety riddled panic attack that is going to shake its audience so violently they won’t know how to separate what is real and what is fiction. This is not to say the film is anything shy of brilliant chaos, because it simply is just that but it is a lot to take in.
For a film that is so masterfully crafted while feeling like an absolute chaotic bad acid trip, everything hinges on the performances. Joaquin Phoenix as described by Aster himself is one of the greatest actors of his time and his performance in Beau is Afraid certainly can continue to cement that thought as he is nothing shy of brilliant. His transformation throughout the movie in different stages of his anxiety attack that engulfs the audience in the world of Beau. Patti LuPone is almost guaranteed to win an Oscar this year from her remarkable performance of Mona, a performance that is so sublime and absolutely astonishing. Without missing a beat she is simply a marvel and a force to be reckoned with. Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane and Parker Posey who plays Elaine Bray round out this exceptional cast that truly captivates the audience and ensures the most chaotically beautiful anxiety ridden final result.
Beau is Afraid is an anxiety inducing nightmare that will sit with audiences significantly longer than the run time of the movie itself, and long after they return home. It is significantly disturbing and will shake the audience to their absolute core. Maddening in story and execution, there is no room to breathe throughout the duration, but the journey is certainly worth the cold sweats and sweaty palms as you’re gripping the arm rest for dear life.