This past Wednesday evening I went to a press screening in IMAX of writer/director Ari Aster’s new film, Beau Is Afraid, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Parker Posey, Kylie Rogers, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Patti LuPone. Aster himself was in attendance, sharing some opening remarks and set to participate in a post-film Q&A with pop culture reporter, author, and friend of Biff Bam Pop!, Richard Crouse.
Unfortunately I had to duck out at the end of the film to get home, but as I was leaving I managed to catch Aster walking back into the theatre, surrounded by a group of handlers and PR folks. I took my chance, though.
“Ari!” I said as he approached me.
“That movie was fucking fantastic!” I exclaimed. “I fucking loved it!”
There was a collective and audible sigh of relief from everyone surrounding him as Ari smiled and said “thank you” as he walked in to do his interview.
That’s the truth; I do think Beau Is Afraid is fantastic. It’s certainly my favourite film of 2023 so far, and it’s probably pushed Midsommar out of the top spot of my personal favourite Ari Aster movie. The story of neurotic Beau (Phoenix) heading home following the death of his mother (LuPone) is a trippy travelogue that felt like a film David Lynch would appreciate. It’s visually stunning (see it in IMAX!!!) and the performances are all universally outstanding.
For some, though, the mother-son dynamic that permeates the entire film could be off-putting, along with the 3-hour time. Truth be told, it was that last part that was definitely a concern for a lot of folks in the theatre, as prior to the movie starting, all I heard was people talking about whether they could hold their bladders for that long. I may have had that concern myself. However, as the movie progressed I noticed very few people getting up; maybe, like me, they were just captivated by what was on screen. Whatever the case, while Beau Is Afraid‘s runtime is long, I never once felt it. In fact, when the credits finally appeared, my first thought was how much I wanted to see it again.
There’s nothing conventional about Beau Is Afraid in my mind, and it’s pretty astounding that the movie had a big budget and is playing mainstream theatres. The idea that something so unique and arguably “weird” becoming a hit is unthinkable, and there’s a strong likelihood that the film will be a financial bomb when all is said and done (I can’t imagine it making back its $35 million budget in North America.) However, for anyone who’s got superhero ennui and remembers a time when going to movies was about more than just fights and phases (I know I do, and I love the genre), taking a chance on a film like Beau Is Afraid could be the ideal palate cleanser. It’s the work of a talented filmmaker taking a big swing at making a movie unlike anything else out there. You can psychoanalyze the subject matter for sure, but the fact that there’s actually stuff in Beau Is Afraid to contemplate is a great thing. Plus, as anyone who’s watched Hereditary or Midsommar knows, Ari Aster is a master of head trauma, and he doesn’t let you down here.
Beau Is Afraid is in theatres now, and I highly recommend it. Just make sure you hit the washroom before it starts so you can enjoy and absorb everything on screen.