BEAU IS AFRAID is Actually The Cinematic Understatement of the Year.

Yes, Joaquin Phoenix’s protagonist, Beau, is afraid, but it is much worse than that. His condition is more like severe anxiety with paranoid delusions. These illnesses make Beau a very unreliable main character, as it is so difficult to tell the movie’s reality and what isn’t. It is probably safe to say that the entire film is a frightening, disturbing, and occasionally awkwardly funny journey through Beau’s life as he has a mental breakdown.

People already familiar with filmmaker Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar) should know to expect the unexpected regarding his films. Beau is Afraid is no exception, as the director explores the experiences of a seemingly sweet but distraught mentally ill man. Aster makes some of Beau’s delusions hilariously obvious but beautifully blurs the lines of reality and hallucination in the movie’s more dramatic and intense beats. At the end of the film, audiences must admit that they were taken on another wild ride by Ari Aster, whether or not they enjoyed it.

Beau Wasserman is the lone middle-aged son of successful entrepreneur Mona (Patti LuPone). Though Mona is a role model and icon for solid and successful women everywhere, Beau fears his shadow. The sad, beleaguered man prefers a quiet and uneventful life, even though he lives in a moderate state of poverty. Despite their differences, Beau keeps in touch with his mother and plans to visit her soon. That is if he can summon up the courage to leave his home, board a plane and travel to see her.

The next journey will test Beau’s courage and strength to overcome his basic fears. After meeting with his seemingly caring therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson), Beau is even more determined to try to see his mother. However, a bizarre phone call, followed by a mysterious chain of events, derail all of Beau’s plans.

Beau is Afraid is one of those movies that people will either appreciate or won’t. While it offers some insight into the experiences of the mentally ill and does so in some vividly imaginative and creative ways, the movie occasionally gets so lost within the chaotic mind of its main character that the journey gets stalled by a few too many wormholes. Another minor observation is that a few of the beats ring similar to those of Pink Floyd: The Wall (both the album and the movie). Beau sometimes comes across as a variant of the Pink character, but without the successes and excesses that come with the fame of being a rock star.

Don’t get me wrong. I still got into this movie and marveled at some of the wild visionary stuff that Ari Aster comes up with. In addition to his solid foundations, the entire cast commits fully to the insanity and bizarre tone of the movie. Joaquin Phoenix is incredible as Beau. Patti LuPone and Zoe Lister-Jones are fantastic as Beau’s mother, Mona, and Stephen McKinley Henderson performs perfectly as the therapist. Also tremendous in the movie are Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Kylie Rogers, and Denis Ménochet.

As far as my recommendations go, I highly recommend Beau is Afraid to fans of Ari Aster’s movies and people who enjoy/appreciate bizarre, mind-bending, slightly disturbing films. As for people who loathe these types of movies, I would steer clear. Beau is Afraid is a wild trip that only sure cinephiles will dig.

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