A gloriously bold, weird, hypnotic, and hilarious 100 minutes tossed into the meandering, Kafkaesque three-hour whirlwind that is Beau is Afraid, Ari Aster’s latest is a meandering and at times pretentious endeavor that overstays its welcome.
Joaquim Phoenix is of course terrific as the title character, a well-meaning but extremely anxious man whose fragile existence is shattered by the death of his narcissistic mother. He sets out to bury her body, but must first navigate the scary world around him. And boy is the world a scary place.
To describe the plot of Beau is Afraid is about as easy as it is to nail it to a genre, but needless to say this is a strange, strange movie that is simultaneously dark and extremely silly. It’s twisted, but explosively funny too–though I imagine the vast majority of people could just as easily slog through as much of this thing as they could handle without even evoking a chuckle, and then walk out and demand their money back from the wide-eyed teenager at the ticket booth.
Beau is Afraid is very much a movie of excess, a prime example of what happens when a heralded director is left unleashed and unbound. It’s self indulgent and pretentious, a movie where Ari Aster (Hereditary) early on declared he’s not going to give a fuck and literally decided to give zero of them. It’s bombastic and insane, but with its highs comes lows.
The first 90 minutes, while still drawn out at times, had me hooked; I wouldn’t say I was loving it, but I was loving parts of it. But as each scene passes, as Aster lets the camera linger just a little too long over and over again, the squirming sets in. The time checking begins. The frustrating acknowledgement that deep into the movie you still have over an hour left becomes reality. Beau is Afraid is never boring, but it sure as hell seems as though Aster is trying his best to wear even his most loyal audience down to the nub.
The climax doesn’t help. Though very much a movie that is more about the journey than the destination, Beau is Afraid has one of the worst endings I’ve seen in quite some time. Maybe it’s that after three hours you just want the damn thing to end, but its final moments are horrendously awful–and I’m not even talking about the giant penis monster.
Beau is Afraid is bold. Weird. Hypnotic. Hilarious. Joaquim Phoenix is great. And yet Aster’s delusional epic is so drawn out, so inaccessible, it’s nearly impossible to recommend.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.