‘Beau is Afraid’: Ari Aster’s new nightmare


@beauisafraid on IG

Jules Kelly, Staff Writer

The Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn planned a showing of “Midsommar” on April 1 that would include a live Q+A with the director, writer and producer Ari Aster, plus a 10-minute preview of his new film “Beau is Afraid.” When Aster appeared, he introduced Joaquin Phoenix, the star of the film, to the audience followed by an announcement: April Fools! “Beau is Afraid” debuted right then for the first time ever.

“I hope you went to the bathroom, it’s long,” Aster told the audience before stepping away from the screen.

Clocking in at two hours and fifty-nine minutes, Aster once described his new film as “a Jewish ‘Lord of the Rings’ but he’s just going to his mom’s house.” “Beau is Afraid” plays out like a Greek tragedy as it feels like you live a hundred lives with the titular character.

“I want you to, like, go through his guts and come out of his butt,” Aster joked during the Q+A panel, which was hosted by actress Emma Stone.

Combining the horror Aster is already known for with comedy, drama, action and psychological thrills, “Beau is Afraid” is a non-stop adventure that you definitely don’t want to be a part of but coincidentally are. It’s rooted in anxiety, fear and regret while making you laugh the whole way through. “It’s a very niche thing to be terrified or scared sh*tless but also laughing, and it’s not something people can achieve very easily,” Stone praised the triple threat.

The film follows Beau, a feeble man with serious mommy issues who lives in an unsavory part of town. The streets outside of his apartment are filled with prostitutes, corpses, drug addicts and a nude murderer known as the Birthday Boy Stab Man. Beau wants to return to his hometown to visit his mother, but in rapid succession, tragic events unfold in the first act and reach their climax when Beau is hit by a car and comatose for two days.

Waking up from his coma, Beau finds himself in the home of Grace and Roger, a rich couple who devotes themselves to taking care of the less fortunate, and also happens to be the people that hit Beau in the first place. Roger, who is brought to life by an incredible performance from Nathan Lane, is a friendly surgeon who vows to fix Beau up and bring him back to his mother’s once he feels better. Roger dons tracksuits, large-rimmed glasses and a perfectly trimmed mustache, and refers to Beau as “my brotha” and “ma dude,” serving as a comic relief and feeling like a caricature of the typical family man. It’s clear early on the movie is set in an alternate reality, as country names and states in the film are all fake, but Roger feels deliberately like a parody of the everyday, American father. Everything seems a bit too good to be true; because it is.

Phoenix gives a sublime performance throughout the film, making himself small and weak as Beau. Phoenix has played similar roles in the past of playing an awkward man like in “Her” or “Joker,” but neither one of those roles go to the heights of strangeness and patheticness as Beau. Beau is helpless and woeful as he deals with these Kafkaesque scenarios at every possible turn. “The joke here for a long time was just, ‘Okay well, Beau is really worried about everything. Let’s put him in a situation that can go wrong one of ten ways. What’s the eleventh way?’” Aster told the audience. It’s pure sadism on Aster’s part (which is unsurprising considering his body of work) as he does not shy away from referring to Beau as lame and “a total dweeb.” 

But after living this man’s life for three hours, you pity the loser. Beau has only known fear, which was instilled in him by his mother (Patti LuPone), and it’s not hard to see why when she enters the film. LuPone is horrifying and strikes terror in the hearts of all that may cross her path. She’s an intense, articulate and petrifying encapsulation of all of Beau’s fears with more money than she knows what to do with. She uses her power and status in ways that are so unbelievable, it will most definitely require a second viewing to fully understand.

“Beau is Afraid” is so dense that it requires allotted time afterward to digest what the hell just happened. There’s so much to mull over in this film–from the outrageous plotlines, the off-putting performances, the hilarious set designs, a 10-second cameo from Bill Hader and a full portion of the movie that is hand-drawn storybook-style animation with a real Phoenix walking through. 

Despite the film’s insane intricacy, Aster had no words to describe his film or the creative process behind it. “What is this?” Emma Stone asked the director during the live Q+A.

“I don’t know,” he responded almost immediately. The mastermind behind the film’s confusion about his own work only adds more proof to the fact that “Beau is Afraid” is completely psychotic. If the director, producer and writer of the film says he really doesn’t understand how his film came to fruition, then the audience surely won’t get it either. But the confusion seems to only amplify the movie and makes you want to study every scene under a microscope.

“Beau is Afraid” is unlike anything ever made before. The gall of Ari Aster to make something this deranged is respectable and the work put in by the film’s production company, A24, to allow something this off the wall to come to actualization is extremely commendable. There are not enough words in the English language to describe what this movie is; it truly relies on seeing it to believe it.

Rating: 9/10