Beau is Afraid

Guilt trip from hell

The plot in self-styled auteur Ari Aster’s (Hereditary, Midsommar) third feature is fairly straightforward. Upon hearing of the death of his mother, a whiny, anxiety-ridden man (Joaquin Phoenix) sets off for her home on a journey that would bewilder Franz Kafka.  

What ensues is a patience-testing series of sketches as he meets and is helped or hindered by a succession of surrealistic characters. Phoenix is as usual totally committed in a raw, gaping wound of a performance. That doesn’t mean it’s fun to watch. The overqualified cast includes Nathan Lane, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan, Parker Posey and Richard Kind. Mostly cameos. Perhaps they wanted to flesh out their filmographies with something experimental. Well, they got that.

It’s an Oedipal farce billed as comedy/drama/horror. I got the comedy but didn’t find it all that funny. The drama is overplayed, albeit intentionally. And the horror is simply gross-out. Imaginatively so, but still. It’s an ugly roller coaster of a treatise on toxic femininity and self-loathing, with twists and turns aplenty.  Lots of razzle-dazzle and technical skill on display, but low on narrative intrigue. Excess itself seems to be the point, and after a while you begin to feel manipulated, put-on. 

Moviegoers in these days of safe-bet sequels and opportunistic remakes certainly welcome a bit of originality. But Jeez, there’s a limit.

Yes, I watched this blivit all the way through, but I had to do it in about six sittings. Perhaps, sophisticated though I am, I was unable to grasp what Aster is doing here. Other viewers more fully on board with the director’s aesthetic may find it more enlightening. Unfortunately, to find out you will have to also sit through it, and it’s Three. Hours. Long. And then it just ends. (179 min)