HomeMoviesBeau is Afraid Review: Joaquin Phoenix Shines in Ari Aster's Anxiety-Riddled Epic

Beau is Afraid Review: Joaquin Phoenix Shines in Ari Aster’s Anxiety-Riddled Epic

Photo Credit: A24

Ari Aster, director Hereditary and Midsommar, returns with Beau is Afraid – an anxiety-riddled epic featuring a can’t miss performance from Joaquin Phoenix and a story that can’t always connect to its audience like Aster’s previous works. 

Beau is Afraid follows Beau (Phoenix) – the troubled son of wealthy entrepreneur Mona Wassermann (Patti LuPone) who lives in a city full of intense violence and potential death around every corner. Beau’s entire existence is driven by anxiety as trips to his dingy apartment generally involve him sprinting through the streets. He’s constantly dreading nearly any and every interaction he has – even with his own mother. However, when Beau gets a call that his mother has suddenly passed away, he goes on a painful cathartic journey home that forces him to confront the secrets of his family and personal trauma that continues to afflict him.

It’s pretty intriguing to see the world that Aster has crafted for Beau is Afraid. It hooks you simply on how nasty and unforgiving it is for Beau. It has such a distinctive mean streak that you’d almost think that Aster is channeling Darren Aronofsky for the early parts of the film. Yet, viewers will still feel invested in the film’s world as it’s richly detailed in a way that makes you investigate every inch of the frame to feel how cruel this world is. 

There are plenty of strong personalities on display that add interesting layers to the air of tension and to Beau’s fears. Even just watching some of the small interactions and situations that Beau finds himself in is surprisingly enthralling and really helps immerse viewers into Beau’s experience. Aster wastes no time in unleashing a captivating world that’s literally hell on Earth and not only hooks viewers on its horrors, but also puts Beau is Afraid’s genre-blending on full-display. 

Beau is Afraid has always been described as a dark comedy by Aster and it certainly lives up to those marks in incredibly messed up ways. The film might feature some of the most chilling laughs in recent time with strong pokes at the wild insanity of it all and hilarious moments fueled by Beau’s traumatized reactions. While Aster shifts into comedy for Beau is Afraid, he still maintains his horror vision that results in some genuine nightmare fuel that’s both haunting and hilarious. Aster also brings in some good action for tense moments of Beau being on the run and emotional drama for when Beau’s anxiety is dissected to make Beau is Afraid a true genre-blender. 

It’s pretty clear early on in Beau is Afraid that there’s going to be a lot going on and that it’ll be a chaotic journey up until the very end. Yet, there’s still this thematic thread that’s felt from the start and evolves throughout Beau’s journey – the destructive power of anxiety. Beau’s anxiety is so palpably tense that it totally leaves him paralyzed in fear at times and making hasty decisions that only put him in more peril. Beau truly feels like he’s completely not in control of himself and it plays into a bigger mystery surrounding the source of it. There is this great thread that deals with whether Beau’s anxiety stems from himself or his complicated relationship with his mother and it leads to this cathartic debate about anxiety that feels timely given the political and social stressors of our time. There’s such a complexity to Beau’s anxiety that you even start to wonder if the world that Aster has created is actually real or just one that represents Beau’s fearful view of things. 

Beau is Afraid is an epic tale of anxiety and self-discovery and one that’s led by a fantastic performance from Phoenix. Only someone as talented as Phoenix could pull off making Beau’s anxiety gripping, heartbreaking, and legitimately palpable. He brings out this very real level of anxiety that’s easy to connect with even on a base level and instantly gravitates you more towards his perspective. It’s another incredible performance that defines why Phoenix is one of the best actors working currently and easily makes Beau is Afraid a must-watch for that alone. 

In terms of the experience that Aster provides with Beau is Afraid, it’s safe to say that it’ll be incredibly divisive. Personally, it was a bit of both. As someone who loves Aster’s work and vision it’s tough to stay engaged with the film. There’s no doubt that Aster pours his heart and soul into Beau’s journey. He shows some incredible ambition that can’t be dismissed. For example, there’s a sequence that sees Beau go through a life-long journey that’s just delightful due to the narration and the visually immaculate animation. Both elements elevate the cinematic experience. Some of the horrors on display, including a nightmarishly, grotesquely phallic monster will truly leave audiences shook. The film delivers a varied experience that hits a wide range of emotions and features plenty of memorable moments. 

Yet, there’s still this disconnect that comes in watching Beau is Afraid because of how it can’t exactly reach the full measure of its ambitions. There’s definitely a lot more that Aster wants to elicit thematically than just anxiety, but it often isn’t able to come through as strongly. Most of what Aster tries to go for simply gets lost in the vast amounts of characters introduced and the insanity of Beau’s journey. The film just juggles too many things at once and even while the mean streaks the film has can be fascinating, it can also make certain characters not easy to connect with. With it all wrapped in an incredibly lengthy runtime that you easily feel the weight of, Beau is Afraid ends up being almost too ambitious for its own good. Unlike how Aster’s previous films have showcased grief in ways that were easily compelling and connective within an easy to grasp storyline, Beau is Afraid has its head too far in the clouds and struggles to keep things grounded. 

Aster’s latest continues to show him as one of the most ambitious filmmakers out there and one who can craft some incredibly unique stories with real emotions and direct instantly iconic performances. Unfortunately, Beau is Afraid is marred by too much wild chaos and an exhaustive runtime to really make a lasting mark and comes off much weaker than Aster’s previous efforts. Still, Aster’s vision should be recognized for what it is – incredibly ambitious, genuinely horrifying, and maybe a little too out there at times. 

Beau is Afraid is playing in theaters nationwide.

Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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