Cinematic Panic Attack
Beau is Afraid is shocking, uncomfortable, and brilliant
5 / 5 stars
It is an observable fact that we are living in the safest era of human history and yet we are all more afraid than ever. Every aspect of modern living seems designed to give us a deep sense of dread and helplessness where our every action and inaction will eventually come back to haunt us.
Naturally, horror auteur Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar) sadistically pokes that raw nerve with Beau is Afraid, the cinematic equivalent of a three-hour panic attack. This intentionally polarizing film is disturbing, funny, and disturbingly funny — and also one of the best films of the year. Beau Wasserman (Joaquin Phoenix giving one of his best performances yet) is a lonely, paranoid man living in a city where everything seems to be specifically targeting him. His life is made worse when he is told that his mother (Pattie LuPone) has died and she will not be buried until he attends her funeral. Now Beau embarks on a surreal odyssey involving an eclectic group of characters who seem determined to stop him from reaching his destination.
The film could be seen as nothing more than a three-hour joke about overbearing Jewish mothers, but to me, it is a perfectly realized monster movie where the monster is unrelenting anxiety. Beau is a man trapped inside his own head where every fear and doubt he's ever had is blasted back at him. Shot in beautiful IMAX and with incredible sound design, Aster's vision would be too much to bear if it wasn't also so funny. He gives us a fully realized fantasy world that perfectly mirrors our confusing, uncertain, anxiety-inducing times.
Written and directed by Ari Aster // Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Armen Nahapetian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Richard Kind, Kylie Rogers, Dennis Menochet, Zoe Lister-Jones, Julia Antonelli, Hayley Squires, Julian Richings, Bill Hader, Alicia Rosario, Parker Posey, and Pattie LuPone // 179 minutes // A24 // Rated R