Beau is Afraid

A movie that will drive you crazy in good or bad ways (depending on your views).

Imagine if “Taxi Driver” had an orgy with “A Clockwork Orange” and “Joker,” and were given the kind of psychological and bizarre sense that writer/director Ari Aster specializes. “Beau is Afraid” is that movie. It’s the kind that’s going to separate people, based on how it’s narrated and presented. After all, it is distributed by A24, which has movies that agrees and disagrees with audiences’ perspectives.

It’s the latest vehicle for Joaquin Phoenix, and he never ceases to amaze me. This time, he plays the title character Beau, who is a coward, in a city full of crazy people and corpses rotting in the street. He locks himself in his shabby apartment from all the craziness, and he has his routines.

Beau spends his time visiting the therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and dodging the local tattooed psycho and a naked man who stabs random people. He’s also required to drink water with his prescribed pills. At one point trouble brews when his credit card doesn’t work at a local convenience store, and only has a dollar and barely enough coins. Like the coward he is, the cashier has to threaten to call the police and he runs away. I’d be scared, too, if I was in his shoes.

He tries to call his mother (Patti LuPone in the present and Zoe Lister-Jones in flashbacks), but is informed she was brutally killed, and the family lawyer (Richard Kind) accuses him of embarrassing them, when he doesn’t show up to begin the funeral immediately. His credit card doesn’t work, so how can he book a flight? He ends up in a car accident that has him in a house with the seemingly nice couple (Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan) and their bratty teenage daughter (Kylie Rogers). Almost sounds like some “Misery” stuff, doesn’t it? Only he doesn’t get his leg smashed; he gets accused of killing the teenager, who poisons herself by drinking blue paint. This girl is so mean-spirited and hateful, that I’m glad she offed herself, so we don’t have to see more of her.

“Beau is Afraid” is different from Aster’s previous entries “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” even if it is labeled a horror film. It’s a surreal piece of entertainment that also works as a black comedy and visionary wonder. There are moments that tickle you in unexpected ways, the kind that wants to mimic the comedic stylings of Wes Anderson pieces, and bring back the magic of Stanley Kubrick.

An example of how this movie allows Aster to show us a different side to himself is when Beau watches a play where he imagines himself on an odyssey for his lost family. Animation and stop motion are added in the mix. It goes on for about 15-20 min, or maybe I lost track of time, but I hope the filmmaker does this kind of style again.

But, even more dazzling is a scene of transcendent wonder during the last half hour. It’s so unbelievable and unexpected, that I don’t think I’ll ever see it again. It’s probably gonna annoy some people who are outside A24 territory and want movies to be the same stuff, but from my perspective, it can’t get more original than that.

As for Phoenix, he eases into the character, who is mistreated by society but doesn’t take the “Joker” way out. He runs away from his problems, and that’s no exaggeration. And under Aster’s writing and direction, this is one of his best performances. See it or don’t see. Love it or hate it. Either way, we’ll have something to talk about.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Now Playing in NY and LA

Opens Everywhere This Friday

Categories: comedy, Drama, Horror

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