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Review: Beau is Afraid (2023)

Beau is Afraid (2023)

Directed by: Ari Aster

Premise: A man (Joaquin Phoenix) suffering from anxiety confronts his complicated feelings about his mother.

What Works: Beau is Afraid is a story in three parts. The first portion of the movie is terrific. Beau visits his psychiatrist and is prescribed medication. What follows is a surreal sequence in which Beau’s anxieties about life and the world and his relationship with his mother dovetail into a stress nightmare. This part of the film is cringingly funny and the various parts fit together well, building toward a climax that transitions into the second part. The role of Beau requires Joaquin Phoenix to be in a constant state of confusion and paranoia and Phoenix commits to the part. Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan are cast as a married couple who take Beau in during the film’s second section and Lane and Ryan are in touch with the movie’s kooky tone.

What Doesn’t: The second and third sections of Beau is Afraid never live up to the promise of the opening portion. The pace of the movie slows down and it gradually becomes evident that the filmmakers are throwing random images and ideas at the screen with little regard for how any of it fits together. Beau is Afraid is packed with weird and loaded images but none of those visuals or scenes has a meaningful impact. Viewers are shown one outrageous image after another but there is no time to ponder those images because the filmmakers are already onto the next reveal. The result is a film that isn’t building toward anything. Unlike Darren Aronofsky’s 2017 film Mother!, which was similarly stylized and outrageous but was held together by focus and discipline, Beau is Afraid comes across random. It is a collection of wild but disconnected ideas that don’t have any collective meaning. That chaotic quality is almost certainly intentional because the filmmakers are trying to visualize Beau’s disjointed state of mind but in the third portion the filmmakers lose their nerve. Much of Beau is Afraid is associative or symbolic but in the final stretch the filmmakers spell out the meaning of everything with the characters speaking at length about Beau’s fears. The exposition dissolves the mystery, denies the viewer the possibility of pondering the meaning, and makes the film tedious and obnoxious. 

Bottom Line: Beau is Afraid is a wildly ambitious film that ultimately doesn’t work. It’s got some extraordinary visuals but the film is overwhelmed by its excesses in a way that is frustrating and boring.

Episode: #946 (April 30, 2023)