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Beau Is Afraid ★★★★



Director: Ari Aster

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Parker Posey 

Release: May 19, 2023 

All too often in this life, it’s Patti LuPone’s world, and we’re just living in it. Thankfully for the girls, gays, and theys, director Ari Aster’s latest foray into the cinematically questionable Beau Is Afraid is exactly that. Tackling the intricacies of a relationship between a Jewish mother and son with an alarming sense of vigour, it’s arguably LuPone that is the only visible glue holding together fragments of film that make no sense together or apart. Even though this is the case, the final product is both beautiful and astonishingly moving. 

Mild-mannered Beau (Ari Aster) is a man trying to battle severe anxiety — which is ultimately a war he often ends up losing. While trying to visit his mother (Patti LuPone), Beau becomes embroiled in a series of seemingly unbelievable acts, each leading him to confront a part of his life or personality that has been long buried. 

If viewers avidly hated Aster’s Midsommar, they will probably be on track to rave about Beau Is Afraid. Rest assured that absolutely none of the almost 3-hour runtime makes any iota of sense, yet what Midsommar perhaps lacked in violent drive, the latter holds in abundance. It certainly feels its length — and perhaps become a game of tactical toilet breaks — but Beau Is Afraid controls both intrigue and heart at every turn. Beau is both someone to admire and someone to take a sticky sense of pity on, rendering him entirely hopeless in a way that straddles adoration and repulsion. Whichever camp audiences fall into, the visual chaos that unfolds is an unexplainable treat. Let it take you where it wants to go, and don’t stew too much over what’s bonafide reality or a hallucination.

The best way to explain Beau Is Afraid is to simply term it as three hours of solid WTF. Almost like a modern-day Wizard of Oz, Beau is the cowardly lion in need of courage. When he gets bursts of it, however, it backfires on him. Guided by strangers to claim to have his best interests at heart, there’s a Black Mirror-esque notion to the foreshadowing of what lies in his future (hint: it’s always bad). Even while we can find these references to cinema past in something so uniquely present, Aster has a more personal angle up his sleeve. Alongside perhaps being the most venomous character of them all, Patti LuPone is an exceptional guidepost through the convoluted waters between mother and son. Once described as a Jewish Lord of the Rings, it’s easy to see where the comparison comes from — a lengthy quest of the self that meanders to no end but always holds power. 

Having to be seen to be believed, Beau Is Afraid is a twisted fable for the modern ages. It’s quite astounding how much physical and emotional torment one man can take, but viewers should, in some way, be grateful for that. Whatever you do, just don’t look in the attic. 

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