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Review: Beau Is Afraid
From His Darkest Fears Comes The Greatest Adventure
A paranoid man embarks on an epic odyssey to get home to his mother.
I watched Beau Is Afraid super early on a Saturday morning. By the time I left my screening, I was wondering if I just watched one of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life. By the time I got home, I was wondering if I had actually seen a ballsy masterpiece. By the time I woke up from a nap, I thought I had perhaps talked myself into thinking it was better than it was. By the time dinner came around, I wondered if I needed to re-watch the movie to see if I was telling myself it was worse than it actually was. I’m sitting down at this very moment and writing this review more than twelve hours since I saw this film, and my feelings on it have been all over the place.
Ari Aster is a filmmaker that has been attracting a growing fandom for his wild and crazy storytelling style of films like Hereditary, Midosommar, or the viral short The Strange Thing About The Johnsons. Many cinephiles love his catalog of works, audiences are negative to mixed on it. For my part, I’ve always found Aster’s movies to be bordering between bad and good. Both his previous feature films are in the B- range for me, so I wouldn’t say I was enthusiastic about his newest release though I was becoming gradually more and more intrigued with each new piece of marketing. And behold, Aster has unleashed a three hour epic that has become so polarizing I’ve seen some declare it a perfect film and others declare it his career killer.
I think the reasons for the negative thoughts on the movie are pretty obvious. For one, its three hours long and I would argue you feel it especially by the last act. Aster’s storytelling style is also not an accessible one, and in this new project he doesn’t hold back from getting weird. There’s strange happenings that transition us through the story beats, there’s an uncomfortable love scene that will make anyone squirm, there’s a literal monster that is shaped like a…well I’ll let you discover that for yourself. And after some interesting setups in the second act, the movie does make third act decisions that practical beg audiences to hate this movie especially with its ending.
And yet I can also see why some have come to love this messy movie. Joaquin Phoenix’s great performance leads an ensemble that delivers and plays it straight through all the absurdity, the movie is shot very well just as Aster’s two previous efforts were, there’s some really striking visuals that I was impressed by, and the film’s outline begs for this to be re-watched and analyzed by hardcore film analysts and future film historians. I can see this becoming a sort of ironic cult classic with the mainstream in the decades ahead.
So how do I personally land on this movie? Well I think of an entirely different movie in The Super Mario Bros. Movie which released two weeks back. As I wrote in my review for that one, its got amazing visuals and some great Easter eggs but lacks a narrative that could make me more invested - and yet I gave it just enough of a pass for what did work. Beau If Afraid is in a way that movie for hardcore cinephiles that love this kind of over-indulgent auteur work. Its got elements that they want to pour over, even if its narrative causes some challenges.
And thus I find myself inching towards giving it a D- grade. After much thought and reflection I would be lying to you if I said I got enough from this movie to give it a positive grade. It is simply not my cup of tea no matter how much I try to force myself to drink it. But its going to be one of the best films of the year for a chunk of film lovers out there. Its not a career killer, but its not the movie that’s going to win me over to join the Aster fan club.