I have no doubt in my mind that Beau is Afraid
will attract a cult following, but it is a cult I will not be joining anytime soon. Here is a movie to watch in stunned silence. Oh, it has plenty of artistic merit to it, but what in the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks is the audience supposed to make of it? This of course means that there will be plenty out there who deem it a masterpiece, and accuse me of missing the boat. This time around, I'm glad I did.
While not entirely blameless till now, writer-director Ari Aster has shown genuine skill and sense with his previous two features, Hereditary
, the later I actually found kind of brilliant until the movie started spinning its wheels and dragging its feet due to an extended two and a half hour running time. This time, Aster keeps the skill but leaves the sense behind, starting by making this movie run even longer at a torturous three hours. I don't remember when a movie has felt so long, or when I have been so eager for the end credits to begin to roll. This film started life as a short film some ten years ago, and maybe it should have stayed that way. Here is a movie where the filmmaker is definitely swinging for the fences, but he has absolutely no idea what he's swinging at as he combines elements of a dark comedy, a family drama, and a horror film. This alone is intriguing, until you realize that not one of these elements is successful.
It's hero, Beau Wasserman (Joaquin Phoenix), is a middle aged man with a shopping list full of phobias. This started at birth, as his mother (Patti LuPone) told him as a child that his father died while they were having sex and conceiving Beau. Therefore, the guy is afraid to be intimate with any woman, as she tells him the condition he died from is hereditary. Beau lives in a shady apartment building, and on a street where apparently every weirdo, psycho and serial killer lurks right outside the door, waiting to jump on poor Beau if he dares set foot outside the relative safety of his apartment. As the film opens, he's planning to make a flight to his mom's home in order to celebrate the memory of his father on the anniversary of his death, but a strange series of events leads Beau trapped in his own apartment, and eventually even locked outside of it.
He tries to call his mother to explain everything, only to have a UPS delivery driver answer, and tell him his mother is dead and decapitated from a falling chandelier. The driver found the woman that way while dropping off a package. This is the kick off point for Beau to make what is supposed to be an incredible journey to return home, but really just turns into a series of run-ins with some bizarrely inane characters who never make an impression. He is hit by a car while running naked down the street (long story), and finds himself in the care of a sunny married couple (Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan) who live with their disgruntled teenage daughter (Kylie Rogers), who is upset because Beau is using her bedroom while he recovers. They're also taking care of a psychotic army veteran who fought with their fallen son in the war. After that situation goes wrong, Beau finds himself lost in the woods and befriending a traveling theater group.
The less said about the plot developments that follow when Beau finds his way home, the better. Not for the sake of spoilers, but they're simply too idiotic to reveal. Again, there is no doubt going to be a great number of people who proclaim Beau is Afraid
as a work of genius. I also have no doubt that Aster knew how polarizing his movie was going to be, and just didn't care what people thought. This is his vision, and early on, I kind of got behind it. But as the movie started to drag oh so slowly and continued to leave all coherency and sense behind, I grew restless. The movie exists solely to get an extreme reaction, but the most extreme reaction I got from it was sheer boredom. I was never amused or entranced, and as the movie just lingered on one endless scene after another, I grew angry.
Aster lets so many of his scenes drag on to such ridiculous lengths that I was squirming during some of them. There are a lot of filmmakers I admire who could use better editing, but never have I wanted to speed up a film quite like this. Sitting through this was a lifeless experience, as I never felt much, despite the technical skill that was frequently on display. That's because the characters that inhabit the story are just so bizarre, and not in a good way. These are not people I wanted to spend an entire movie watching, especially not at this length. Beau's emotional journey, and especially its destination, felt like a long, dry road to nowhere in particular, and though I can't quite claim I expected to see a lot of the things the film's final moments showed me, I don't think I wanted to see them in the first place.
Just like there will be many who proclaim this a work of art, I also believe there will be many who view this as an overlong, insufferable self-indulgent piece of junk. Maybe you'll see this on some Best of the Year lists come December. You'll find it on a different list of mine at the same time.
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