Beau Is Afraid. The title is literal, Beau (Joaquin Phoenix), fears everything, anxiety rooted in his relationship with his monster mommy Mona (Patti LuPone) that permeates every corner of his life. It’s a promising start as Midsommar writer/director Ari Aster’s latest begins in Beau’s psychiatrist’s (Stephen McKinley Henderson) where Beau picks up new meds prior to a visit with Mom, but it doesn’t take long to unravel. Three hours long, and full of forced surrealism and repellant characters, Beau Is Afraid only intermittently amuses. It’s not so much a movie as a filmgoers’ exercise in endurance.
The pity is it begins well enough. Beau lives in such an urban hellscape that you half expect Phoenix to show up in a dual role as the Joker to confront his meek doppelganger. These early scenes with bodies moldering in the streets, crowds of junkies and criminals that seem more dead than alive, and violent crime busting out all over feel like the beginning of an especially visceral zombie movie. But Aster soon moves on to a suburban home where Beau, recovering from an accident, finds himself the prisoner of its cheerful owners (Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan) before running off into a forest where he finds a theater group mounting a seemingly endless play. From there, he works his way home to Mother and a chance meeting with his childhood crush Elaine (an ill-used Parker Posey).
That’s not all, of course. There are plenty of flashbacks back to Beau’s childhood, explicating the roots of his troubled relationship with Mona (played by Zoe Lister-Jones in these scenes), even a trip to the attic long forbidden to Beau, and much more. So much more. It all feels… endless. And pointless, unless the only point is to torture this poor guy for existing.
While the rest of the cast plays at being cartoons (they have no choice – like Jessica Rabbit, they are simply drawn that way), Phoenix delivers a full-bodied, empathetic performance. All for naught. His efforts are simply wasted in this epic empty exercise. –Pam Grady