Beau is Afraid (2023)

3.2 of 5 from 64 ratings
2h 59min
Not released
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Aging, neurotic misfit Beau Wasserman (Joaquin Phoenix) always had a difficult relationship with his domineering businesswoman single mother Mona (Patti Lupone). Upon receiving word of her death, his attempts to get cross-country in time for her funeral find him surrounded by a string of eccentrics and subject to tortures stemming from his own warped psyche. Ari Aster's surreal, epic tragicomedy also stars Parker Posey, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Zoe Lister-Jones.
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Lars Knudsen, Ari Aster, Jorge Canada Escorihuela
Ari Aster
Disappointment Blvd.
Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Thrillers
Release Date:
Not released
Run Time:
179 minutes
Release Date:
Not released
Run Time:
180 minutes

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Beau is Afraid (aka Disappointment Blvd.) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso

Paranoia is a harsh feeling to place in a movie without coming off with the typical stagings of various psychological horrors/thrillers. Beau is Afraid captures this creeping anxiety so well that it can place different tones within its nightmarish narrative. Here’s a film that can find the sadness in death, the fear of family, and the absurdity of a world gone made. It’s the type of film where you laugh uncontrollably one minute and then sink into your seat with astonishment the next.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Beau, a middle-aged man still haunted by the past. Despite his therapy and medication, this man never grew out of this fear that he was not in control of his life. Past traumas still linger of the unhealthy relationship with his mother and the uncertainty of his city life. His latest trip home to his mother is a trial of mental anguish and unlucky developments. He makes all the necessary arrangements for medication and airport tickets, but something always gets in the way. Whether it’s the water being shut off in his apartment or the naked murderer right out his window, there’s good reason for Beau to be afraid of this world.

Beau’s journey home takes him to some weird places. He wanders into the woods and has a disorienting dream about starting a family. He flees naked from violent attackers and police who do nothing. He is taken in by a seemingly kind couple (Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan) with less-than-stable occupants (Kylie Rogers, Denis Ménochet). The detours get stranger and stranger as he tries to seek help and finds little happiness in his attempts to appease. When he finally arrives home, he’s in for even more shock as the twists mount to surreal degrees.

A film that deals with such cerebral cruelty needs a solid chaser, and the humor is on point for the absurdity. The background becomes comic relief in highlighting everything from sexually-graphic graffiti to unbelievable TV dinners. It’s an absurdity so over-the-top you have to laugh to take a break from the dread that keeps consuming Beau’s mind. How else would one respond if they went to take a bath and a homeless man bit by a spider fell into the tub and died? The surprise reveal of a monster in this film also feels like the perfect mixture of weirdness, absurdity, and thematic resonance. It’s also unbelievably gross, which feels somewhat expected for director Ari Aster.

Running three hours long, Aster leaves his comfort zone to stage this strange adventure. It’s not only an unpredictable odyssey but loaded with some unexpected roles. Nathan Lane feels wildly off-beat as the dad who tries too hard to maintain the piece, often referring to Beau as his dude. Parker Posey shows up as a love interest and makes the most of her scenes that proceed from empathetic to erotic. Patti Lupone is in top form as Beau’s scrutinizing mother that has coated her son’s life with a layer of fear so thick he suffocates under it. Richard Kind is a red-faced lawyer who practically becomes the grim reaper in how he judges Beau’s life. Keep your eyes peeled for a shy cameo by Bill Hader.

Let it be known that Beau is Afraid is not that horror movie you recommend to everybody. It’s a long, unorthodox, and highly unhinged depiction of one man’s descent into his fears of helplessness. The unrelenting terror takes several forms and always surprises, but you do have to be along for the ride and willing to join Beau’s cerebral struggle. The final shots are so haunting in their reflection of the audience. Films like this stay with you long after, where even the less compelling elements still have a coating of intrigue. If this isn’t Aster’s best film, it’s by far his most daring effort.

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