At the age of 22 I was back home on Long Island living with my parents. Too long of a story to give the entire background for, but at the center of it all I was around to help out as my mother battled cancer. I started seeing a 26 year old woman I met while working a temp gig in Manhattan and while my relationship skills were not at their peak at the time, I was always ready to go the extra mile to try and finally be the adult I hadn’t really been yet. One late Saturday night (so late that it was basically Sunday at that point), I received a message from said woman who was “upstate” visiting her father. She wasn’t having the best time and desperately wanted to get out of there.
I was never the adventurous type. Spontaneity was not my forte and taking a two hourish drive in the middle of the night to a place I’ve only ever been to once (with no easy GPS options available at the time) from memory to be “the hero” was something I relished in. I wanted to grow and my parents always wanted me to branch out more. I could accomplish both goals at once, and save the girl all at the same time. I’d be happy, she’d be happy, my parents would be happy.
So, I freshened up, changed my clothes, and scribbled a note to my parents that I left on the kitchen table so when they couldn’t find me the next day, they wouldn’t freak out; “Gone to save Bess, will be back tomorrow.” I Jumped into my super cool Toyota Rav 4 and headed off thinking about how chuffed everyone would be. I didn’t receive a call from my parents the next day, so they luckily found my note. But, much to my surprise, when I returned home I was met with anger. “How could you do that!? What if something happened to me? Thank God I found that note, otherwise I wouldn’t have known where you were!” Yeah, that’s why I left the note.
Color me dumbfounded. I wouldn’t have left if I was needed. It was the weekend. My father wasn’t working. He was there to look after my mother if needed. This was also the time she was starting to recover and win that first battle. I really thought she’d be happy I was stepping outside my comfort zone. Didn’t she want me to start a life away from home? Didn’t she want me to find someone that I wanted to start a life with? Why is it that no matter what I do, I never seem to do the right thing?
By this point, you’re probably wondering…”What the hell is this? Isn’t this supposed to be a review of the new Ari Aster film, Beau is Afraid?” Yes it is and here is where it all starts to make sense. The world has always been a strange place, but we are seemingly in an era where fear mongering and social disorders are keeping people at the edge of their wits. In this new world, there is one thing that outweighs every bad thing you can think of. No anxiety, no depression, no fear, no physical weapon is more powerful than one single thing; a Jewish Mother’s guilt trip.
Beau Wassermann (Joaquin Phoenix) is an overly anxious man, but he’s looking to get better. Even though the neighborhood he lives in is populated with junkies, violent homeless maniacs, deprived sex clubs, and poisonous spiders; he finds ways to make it out in the world to try and get better. The one thing that really seems to chill him to his core, is the constant contact from his mother. On the eve before he sets out on a trip to see his mother, he’s kept up by a confused neighbor. By the time he finally wakes up the next day it is only a few hours before his flight is meant to take off.
He is so frantic, he makes some major mistakes and his keys and bag are stolen. His mother doesn’t take the news that her son won’t make his flight, very well. After another day of insane living, Beau is met with a strange voice when he tries to call his mother. That night, Beau’s mother was killed in a tragic accident. Finding his way home to the funeral proves to be an arduous adventure as Beau is confronted with many obstacles and many revelations as he tries to make it home.
Much like Ari Aster’s previous films, Beau is Afraid is not for everyone. I’ve already seen many of my colleagues react to the film negatively, claiming they don’t really understand what they saw. Personally, I’m confused that others find the film so confusing. Yes, the film operates in a hyper realized version of our existence. Yes, there are those few (specifically one) outrageous moments that people won’t know how to react to and will be cannon fodder for every “Movies that really went there” video on YouTube till the end of time. But the premise and story of Beau is Afraid is fairly straightforward and transparent. Even as you figure things out right before the film unfolds it for you, you can see how deliberate everything that happened leading up to that point is.
The movie is long, clocking in at 179 minutes. It could have ended multiple times before it did and still hit all the points it needed to. The opening salvo that all takes place in and around Beau’s apartment is instantaneously amazing. I couldn’t stop from feeling drawn in and mesmerized by anything and everything that takes place in the first quarter of the movie. The small plot hints and wild atmosphere of the bathtub scene are breathtaking. The issue becomes that the middle portion of the film has to fight to keep the same energy. There are great beats along the way, but they could have been shortened up or even left out for some smaller things, and the film still would have succeeded at getting its point across.
This is a film I want to talk about. I want to write about small details to express just how it affected me, how it made me feel. But doing so would ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. Every frame, every line of dialogue, every little detail of every strange situation that Beau finds himself in is not only part of the puzzle for viewers, but part of what makes Beau who he is. Thinking about the impact of parts of his journey as the full truth comes out can fry your brain as you start connecting the dots.
While not a full-on comedy from start to finish, the film does present some very quirky and hilarious moments. It also has the most random array of cameo’s I’ve seen in quite some time. But, I can see it already. People are going to walk out of Beau is Afraid saying, “What did I just see?” Some people are going to walk out angry. Others may not know how to rationalize that scene. They’ll want to talk about it though, in one way or another. Let’s talk about it people!
Leaving my screening of the film, I personally wasn’t sure how I felt. I know I understood something that maybe other people didn’t. You don’t grow up the child of a Jewish Mother without knowing what you’ll do next that will break her heart, only to be met with a passive aggressive guilt trip that makes you the bad one. The more I started thinking about what I just saw, the more it started to attach itself to me. The more I wanted to talk about it with anyone, everyone who simply didn’t dismiss it because they got caught up in a single scene or two, and missed the entire point. Beau is Afraid is not a perfect film, but I keep bumping up the grade minute to minute. And right now I’m going with a…
Grade : B