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FEATURING: , Patti LuPone, Armen Nahapetian, , Nathan Lane
PLOT: Anxiety-ridden Beau is scheduled to take a trip to see his domineering mother, but it becomes a nightmare as the universe conspires against his success.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Ari Aster takes a break from elevated horror to film three hours of gonzo black comedy that captures what I imagine hour 36 of a nonstop meth binge must feel like: a tsunami of paranoia, hallucination, and self-loathing that seems like it will never end. It’s an experiment in excess that few directors ever get the chance to indulge in—a gamble that could make or break a career, or be forgotten and seen as an outlier oddity in an auteur’s oeuvre years down the road. Whatever it is, assisted by an (as always) all-in Joaquin Phoenix, Aster seizes the opportunity to present the type of big budget freakoutshow we’re unlikely to see again for a long time. It’s a weird movie happening; see it now, so years down the line you can brag to the next generation of weirdo cinephiles that you caught Beau on the big screen.
COMMENTS: I don’t think the new pills Beau’s therapist prescribes him at the beginning of the film are working. They may even be making things worse. Not only does the fact that they must be taken with water raise problems (and plot points) for a patient with an obsessive anxiety disorder who lives in a tenement with iffy plumbing, but we don’t really know much about how Beau sees the world before the medication switch. Afterwards, the city Beau sees around him looks something like Taxi Driver a few weeks before everyone flees town and officially signs up with a Road Warrior gang. The street on which he lives throngs with homeless ruffians, including a head-to-toe tatted thug who particularly has it out for Beau. The urban terrors are so hyperbolic that we can’t for a second buy that Beau exists in our world (little nuggets like a soldier who died in a non-existent campaign in Caracas suggest an alternate reality). By the time Beau discovers a bum clinging to his bathroom ceiling, we realize that we’re trapped far, far inside his paranoid mind, and the omnipresent threats we see through his eyes aren’t all there.
Like a symphony (maybe Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety”), Beau Is Afraid is structured in four movements (with interstitial interludes flashing back to Beau’s boyhood). Between the beginning of his journey and his return to his childhood home, Beau makes two major stops along the way: first, at the home of a kindly couple played by Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane, then with a community of theatrical vagabonds who dub themselves the “Orphans of the Forest.” The film’s opening has an After Hours vibe, as an unbelievable run of bad luck—a stolen key, an apartment lockout, a naked stabber—conspires to keep Beau from setting out on his dreaded reunion with his mother. The last Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: BEAU IS AFRAID (2023)