Sunday, April 30, 2023

Beau is Afraid

Movie Name:
Beau is Afraid
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Parker Posey, Kylie Rogers, Denis Menochet, Zoe Lister-Jones, Armen Nahapetian, Julia Antonelli, Richard Kind, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Bill Hader, Alicia Rosario
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review
After a making a huge splash with "Hereditary" and "Midsommar", writer/director Ari Aster is back with an unexpected tale, focused on guilt and swarming with powerful metaphors. The narrative focuses on the story of Beau, a middle aged man who is going through therapy and is about to go visit his mother. Beau lives in a rough area and is particularly prone to anxiety. The day he's about to take off to see his mother, a series of unexpected problems occur, which prevent him from being able to catch the flight. When he communicates this to his mother she becomes upset. After another flurry of surreal events, Beau is confronted with an unexpected occurrence when he calls his mother the following day, only to discover that a UPS man has found a corpse of what seems to be his mother whose head has been decapitated. As Beau tries to escape a series of additional odd occurrences, he is unexpectedly hit by a food truck. He wakes up in the house of a married couple by the name of Grace and Roger (who also hit him with the truck). This couple have a teenage daughter, and are also taking care of an emotionally damaged war veteran named Jeeves, who was part of the same platoon as their late son (who was killed in action). Beau is desperate to get to his mom's funeral, but he's in bad shape following the car collision. To make matters worse, Toni, the teenage daughter of their rescuers, also resents him. As Beau navigates these new events, he realizes he has to act soon enough in order to get to his mom's funeral.
Working with his biggest budget yet, Ari Aster has crafted with "Beau is Afraid" what many reviewers and audiences may deem a "brave" film. And typically that statement always underscores something that has a strong subject, but one that doesn't necessarily is communicated in the most successful manner. And that is indeed the case here, where the film is filled with metaphors and analogies but it is very much focused on the concept of parental love riddled and poisoned by guilt towards its children. This poison stems from the expectations of parents, and in this case in particular, from the overbearing, larger than life Mona and the impact and implications her attitudes, secrets and hangups actually have on Beau. The distance that Beau has created from his mother is a buffer for him to lead a semblance of a normal life, even if he lives in an environment that feels like an exposed raw nerve, which dramatically contrasts with Mona's locale, a place of serenity, seclusion and privilege. Beau is indeed haunted by all these issues imposed on him by his mother, things that control to this day his relationships, his anxieties, even his sexuality and ultimately his fear of death. It's an ambitious film, that indeed illustrates Beau's journey through a quasi hellish ground to get to his destination, and while there's so much to admire, there's also a very distinct notion that Beau is portrayed always in the exact same way. He's never a truly and fully realized character, as he is always seen in the exact same way, and even though he has this lovable schlub aspect to it, that's always the unique way in which he's rendered. Of the supporting characters, the one that rises and has a striking impact is of course Patti LuPone who creates a character both terrifyingly monstrous and also at times strangely fearful and resentful. Most of the supporting characters exist as a symbol for something, and while they're cleverly brought to life (such as Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane's creepy couple), they're still very much defined in terms of Beau's journey, and never as standalone characters. This is a film that is indeed distinctive, featuring a tremendous performance from Joaquin Phoenix (who is indeed brilliant), with an impeccable production team (including the score from Bobby Krlic), but one who also loses itself in the topic that is trying to illustrate. However, it's a feature that grabs you and stays with you, and that is a testament to Ari Aster's capacity to weave this story and Joaquin Phoenix's embodiment to bring this character to life. It's a flawed yet worth seeing film.