Monday, April 24, 2023

Beau is Afraid


Written and directed by Ari Aster that is based on his 2011 short film Beau, Beau is Afraid is the story of a troubled and paranoid man who goes on a journey to return home to his mother where he deals with the chaos around him as he also faces his own fears. The film is the study of a man who hasn’t done much with his life while living in a world that is chaotic and violent as the titular character of Beau Wassermann is played by Joaquin Phoenix. Also starring Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Parker Posey. Beau is Afraid is a surreal though frustratingly flawed film from Ari Aster.

The film follows a man who is set to meet his mother as he constantly encounters all sorts of chaos where he is often afraid as his journey to return home to his mother becomes this journey filled with lots of misunderstandings and other strange incidents that has him running away. It is mainly a character study of this man who lives in an apartment where a lot of shit happens as he often attends therapy sessions as he is reluctant to visit his mother Mona (Patti LuPone & Zoe Lister-Jones as both the present and younger versions, respectively) whom he’s had a chaotic relationship with. Especially as they plan to meet on the anniversary of his father’s death as he had never known his father since he died before he was even born which makes the journey more difficult while a series of circumstances would delay his departure as he is hit by a truck where he is taken to a house by this couple who are nursing him despite the protests of their teenage daughter.

Ari Aster’s screenplay is sprawling in terms of the journey that Beau Wassermann takes as it also has some flashbacks relating to his life with mother including a moment as a teenager (Armen Nahapetian) when they’re vacationing on a cruise where meets a young girl named Elaine (Julia Antonelli) where they make a vow to lose their virginity to one another as he wouldn’t see her for years as he later learns that she works for her mother as an adult (Parker Posey). Throughout the course of the film, Aster’s script has Beau going through these encounters with people and other things as he is trying to go home as it relates to a Jewish custom but also is forced to confront things in his life had been braver. Yet, Beau is often someone who had a choice to take action or to make a decision but often never stands up for himself which often puts him into danger and all sorts of trouble. Especially in his relationship with his mother where he always does whatever she tells him to do and allows people to step over him.

Aster’s direction is definitely grand in terms of its overall presentation as it is shot largely on location in Montreal as New York City with areas in and around the city in its forests and suburbs as the places that Beau would go to. Yet, it opens with a childbirth scene shot from the perspective of the baby coming out of its mother’s womb as it sets the tone for the chaos that Beau would endure as an adult. Aster would create some unique compositions that play into Beau’s own sense of paranoia and fear such as a man hiding on the ceiling in his bathroom while Beau is in the tub as the close-up of Beau’s face and the man’s face is a key moment. Even as it would be this moment leading to the second act where Beau would be hit by a car while being stabbed by a crazed naked man as it is one of several moments of surrealism that is present throughout the film. The scenes at the home of this couple in Grace and Roger (Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane, respectively) does seem like this sense of normalcy until their daughter Toni (Kylie Rogers) comes in as it adds to this sense is discord where something is going to happen to Beau either through his own decisions or his refusal to take action.

The wide and medium shots don’t just add to the visual look of the film including a scene where Beau is in the forest where he meets an acting troupe putting on a play. It is a scene near its third act where Beau sees himself as this character in a play as it is this surreal moment that play into the kind of future Beau would’ve had if he had been braver. It should’ve been this moment of serious development but given the fact that he is someone that carries a lot of guilt where Aster constantly has Beau in situations where there are moments that go on for too long in a film with an almost three-hour running time. The film’s third act and climax that relates to a supposed flashback or traumatic event has him just take not just the abuse from people who blame him for something he didn’t do but also keeps apologizing as if he was the one that has done something. Its ending is also strange as it plays into a man that doesn’t just have serious parental issues but is also someone without a spine who rarely has a moment of anger as he is driven by fear of not just being unloved but also being someone who never had anyone to tell him to stand up for himself. Overall, Aster crafts a wondrous yet bloated film about a man who is afraid of everything and everyone as he tries to get home to his mother.

Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it has these amazing visuals for many of the daytime exterior scenes with its natural lighting along with some unique lighting for some of the scenes at night including scenes in the forest and at Mona’s home. Editor Lucian Johnston does nice work with the editing in allowing shots to linger a bit along with rhythmic cuts to play into the action and some of the film’s dark humor though it has moments where it lags due to its bloated presentation. Production designer Fiona Crombie, with key set decorator Paul Hotte and supervising art director David Gaucher, does amazing work with the look of the small apartment that Beau lives in to the home of Roger and Grace as well as the home where Mona lives along with the look of the stage play that Beau watches. Costume designer Alice Babidge does excellent work with the costumes in the different array of clothes including some pajamas that Beau wears along with the costumes that the acting troupe wears.

Hair designer Felix Lariviere and prosthetics makeup effects designer Steve Newburn do incredible work with not just the look of Beau with his bruises and such but also in the play scene where he dreams of being the main character in the play with all of its prosthetics as well as a key scene late in the film as it play into some revelations about himself. Special effects supervisor Louis Craig, along with visual effects supervisors Yuval Levy and Louis Morin, does fantastic work with the look of the play fantasy scene with some of its animation as well as some effects for a key scene late in the film. Sound editor Paul Hsu does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as how music is presented next to Beau’s apartment as well as other things that are played on location. The film’s music by Bobby Krlic is phenomenal for its haunting mixture of woodwinds, percussions, and string instruments to add to the suspense and offbeat humor of the film while music supervisor Jemma Burns creates a soundtrack that is filled with an array of music from various genres ranging from pop and electronic music including songs from Bread and Mariah Carey.

The casting by Julie Breton and Jim Carnahan is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Richard Kind as Mona’s attorney Dr. Cohen, Julian Richings as a strange man Beau meets at the play who claims to know Beau’s father, the trio of Michael Gandolfini, Theodore Pellerin, and Mike Taylor as Beau’s sons in the fantasy play sequence, Alicia Rosario as Toni’s friend Liz, Bradley Fisher as a naked man stabbing people, James Cvetkovski as Beau as a young boy, Hayley Squires as a pregnant woman named Penelope who takes Beau to the forest where she’s part of an acting troupe, Julia Antonelli as a teenager Elaine whom the young Beau would fall for, and Armen Nahapetian as the teenager Beau who would fall for the young Elaine as he deals with his father’s absence and other issues relating to his mother. Stephen McKinley Henderson is superb as Beau’s therapist who observes and takes notes over Beau’s anxieties while also recommending him to take some serious prescriptions with water.

Denis Menochet is terrific as a PTSD soldier named Jeeves who is unstable comrade of Grace and Roger’s son whom they let stay at a trailer at their home as he would be this insane figure that would scare Beau. Kylie Rogers is good as Grace and Roger’s daughter Toni as this troubled and antagonistic teenager who hates Beau as she gets him to do things as a way to humiliate him as well as do whatever she can to get him in trouble. Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane are excellent in their respective roles as Grace and Roger as a couple who hit Beau with their car as they take him in to heal as they are this weird couple who offer to help him yet are offbeat though they come off as cartoonish at times. Parker Posey is brilliant in her small role as the adult Elaine as Beau’s soulmate whom he hadn’t seen in years as she reveals to work for his mother in her business while her reunion with Beau is a joyful moment leading to something hilarious in their meeting.

The duo of Patti LuPone and Zoe Lister-Jones are great in their respective roles as the older and younger version of Beau’s mother Mona Wassermann with LuPone as this domineering woman who has become tired of her son’s anxiety issues though it is clear that she is a toxic woman with little care about his issues. Lister-Jones’ performance is more subdued as she isn’t this sweeter version of Mona but also reveals to be someone who is also toxic. Finally, there’s Joaquin Phoenix in an incredible performance as the titular character as this man who is constantly afraid of everything as he’s filled with a lot of anxieties and fears where he often apologizes for everything. It is a performance that has Phoenix do a lot of physicality as well as display emotions though he is hampered by the script as well as the fact that this character he’s playing doesn’t grow a spine and never stands up for himself as it has these moments of greatness but it is also frustrating at times.

Beau is Afraid is a stellar yet highly-flawed film from Ari Aster despite an incredible leading performance from Joaquin Phoenix. While it is a film that does feature a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, and a killer music score by Bobby Krlic, it is a film that is ambitious in its approach to surrealism but falls flat due to a protagonist that rarely takes action for himself as he continuously gets stepped on over and over again. In the end, Beau is Afraid is a good but bloated film from Ari Aster.

Ari Aster Films: Hereditary - Midsommar

© thevoid99 2023


Brittani Burnham said...

Highly-flawed indeed! Really wish I would've enjoyed this more.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Man, this was frustrating to watch. Coming out of the theater, there were people just complaining about Beau and I was like "he needed to grow a goddamn spine" as I think audiences were on the same page saying "he needs to just stand up for himself". Shit. I hope Ari's next film isn't as bonkers and... much shorter.

ruth said...

Good for Ari Aster and all his successes, but I don't think his work is for me. I read a few of the reviews of this, including yours, and am convinced I would not enjoy this movie.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-I'm sorry you didn't enjoy the film as I liked it but I wished he did some trimming and created a protagonist that was more nuanced and had a spine. Instead, it was just frustrating as I don't recommend watching it in theaters.