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Movie Review: Beau is Afraid

I’m a huge fan of Ari Aster. Midsommar and Hereditary rank near the top of my favorite horror films. I was really looking forward to Beau is Afraid knowing Ari was pushing the envelope. Knowing that it would not be like the others. I wish it lived up to the other two.

Beau is Afraid follows Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) as he tried to make it home to see his mother, and after she dies, make it to her funeral. It’s set in four acts, each more of a mini-film within the film as a whole.

The first is Beau in his run down city apartment. The city is lawless with knife wielding naked murderers and tattooed ruffians populating the streets. After getting little sleep with his neighbor sliding notes under his door and playing loud music all night, Beau misses his flight to see his mother. She lays on the guilt, because of course she does. Then, she suddenly dies and Beau must navigate the world at large to get to her funeral.

The second act is the most interesting. Beau wakes after an accident in a house with a seemingly friendly family. That is until they turn out to be grieving their dead son and the parents are using Beau as a replacement. Their jealous daughter drinks a can of blue paint and tries to frame Beau. I was hoping that Beau would eventually realize that the home was a halfway house for mentally ill people and that they were not really helping him recover, but this act doesn’t go there. Beau leaves the home behind with one of the homes residents on his tail.

The third act finds Beau happening upon a traveling theatre group who had set up in a forest. The play they put on ends up being an animated sequence that parallels to Beau’s life, and he suddenly realizes that he is reunited with his sons. That is until he realizes he is still a virgin because his mother led him to believe he would die if he ever had a sexual encounter.

The fourth act brings Beau to the funeral of his mother. He missed the entire affair, so the clean up crew is putting everything away. A childhood friend arrives, someone Beau wanted to be with forever, and they end up in bed together. Beau survives, but then she dies in the very way he assumed he would if he ever had sex. It’s then that his mother appears, alive and mentally unwell. Their codependent relationship becomes a huge fight, and his mother allows him to see into the attic he was never allowed to visit. There, he finds his manhood (an large animated penis) and a trapped brother he forgot he had in childhood. Beau leaves, only to find himself in a sort of kangaroo court where every fear and regret is judged.

This film is a lot. So much so that it requires more than one viewing. The problem is that it isn’t the type of film I would ever want to sit through again. I love acts two and four. If either of them were a film on their own by Ari Aster, I would watch the hell out of them. They are interesting, full of foreshadowing and metaphors. But as a whole, Ari’s latest trip down the trauma river is too long. Too much all at once.

What I really thought of when I was watching this was Mother!, that film starring Jennifer Lawrence. A long winded drive through a story that drags on too long and the payoff is not worth the effort. Or three hours of my time. Ari Aster is a phenomenally gifted film maker. Beau is Afraid just did too much of everything, and if you are paying attention in the first ten minutes, the clues are all there as to what the kangaroo court was really about when his life ended. Just wish it took less than three hours to get there.

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