Beau Is Afraid Loses Itself in Its Weirdness

Photo provided by A24

I like weird films. Sure, I love my Marvel movies and my Conjuring-esque studio horror films just as much as anyone, but if every movie fit into those stereotypical molds, film fandom would get really boring really quickly. We need quirky movies like Lamb, Colossal, and Eraserhead, so I was really excited to see Beau Is Afraid. I couldn’t wait to find out just how weird Ari Aster would get, and after finally watching the film, I can say with certainty that it’s one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen…for better or for worse.

Beau Is Afraid was written, directed, and co-produced by Ari Aster, and it stars Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Lane, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan, and Parker Pose. It’s about a middle-aged man named Beau who suffers from extreme anxiety and paranoia, and when he tries to go home and see his mother one day, he embarks on a surreal adventure unlike anything else he’s ever experienced.

I normally give longer plot synopses than that in my reviews, but I can’t really do that here. See, Beau Is Afraid isn’t really about the plot. It’s more about the journey, and it almost doesn’t even matter where Beau is trying to go or why he’s trying to get there. The various bizarre stops along the way are the movie’s primary concern, so it’s almost impossible to sum up what it’s about without simply rehashing everything that happens. The best I can do is tell you the basic premise, and hopefully the rest of my review will give you a bit of a feel for what this film is really like.

For the first 45 or 50 minutes, I was totally on board with Beau Is Afraid. This part of the movie leans hard into Beau’s fears and anxieties, but it ramps them up to 11. Everything that could go wrong for the poor guy does, and it often plays out in the most ridiculous and heightened way possible.

Beau looking distressed
Photo provided by A24

To take just one example, there’s a scene where Beau goes across the street to buy some water, and before he gets to the cashier, he drinks about half the bottle. Normally, this wouldn’t be too much of a problem, as he’s going to pay for it anyway, but it becomes a huge problem when his credit card is declined. He now has to pay with cash, and as he’s fishing through his pockets for change, the clerk gets angrier and angrier and threatens to call the police on him for stealing half a bottle of water. It’s so absurd that it feels like a live-action carton, and it’s absolutely hilarious.

On top of that, this first part of Beau Is Afraid also has some more subtle humor that you’ll only catch if you pay close attention. Ari Aster hides a bunch of clever jokes in things like graffiti and signs all throughout Beau’s apartment building and the surrounding neighborhood, and they’re just as funny as the more in-your-face humor.

In fact, the comedy in those first 45 minutes is so great that I even began to wonder why the movie was so divisive. Sure, I know that kind of humor isn’t for everyone, but I think a lot more people are going to like it than not.

However, at about the 45-minute mark, Beau Is Afraid changes. The narrative slows down quite a bit, and it gradually begins to lose that cartoonish feel. To be fair, there’s still a lot of really great comedy at first, but as the film goes on, it becomes less and less funny. It tries to make up for the lack of laughs by becoming super weird, but by doing that, it completely lost me.

Old Beau
Photo provided by A24

Beau basically just goes from one bizarre scenario to the next, and while there is a thematic thread that runs through his journey, it doesn’t quite work on a narrative level. See, from here on out, it feels like the movie stops being concerned with telling a story and instead tries to be weird just for the sake of being weird, and it simply didn’t appeal to me anymore.

In fact, the film eventually becomes so bizarre that by the end of it, it untethers itself almost entirely from reality and lands itself pretty firmly in fantasy territory. I’m not going to spoil how exactly it does that, but I will say that this fantasy element also gives it a bit of a horror feel. Granted, the intensity of Beau’s anxiety and the heightened way it’s presented already gives Beau Is Afraid a slight horror-adjacent tone, but the third act leans into that a bit more.

However, even then, I still couldn’t get back on board with the film. By the time the horror came to the fore a little more, I had already stopped caring about the characters, the humor was almost non-existent, and the story had devolved past the point of no return. It was simply too little too late, and when the credits began to roll, I walked out pretty disappointed.

So all in all, I’m sad to say that I wouldn’t recommend Beau Is Afraid. To be fair, I’m happy that Ari Aster took a big swing and that A24 let him do it, but I think it ended up being a swing and a miss. The film starts out great, but then it switches gears and throws out everything that made it work. The awesome comedy eventually gives way to weirdness for weirdness’ sake, and without a strong narrative to ground it, the movie just can’t stay afloat.

Beau Is Afraid is playing in theaters right now.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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