Beau is Afraid (2023, Ari Aster)

Beau (2011, Ari Aster): Only 6 minutes vs. the main feature’s 179, so this felt like a good place to start. Beau is leaving his apartment to visit his mother when his keys get stolen, so he tries to stay awake long enough to catch the thief returning, and possible goes insane along the way. Good comic-action bit when he’s rushed by a guy with a pocketknife, but the knife folds in and cuts off the assailant’s own finger. Aster’s camera moves are cool, but he hadn’t learned how to shoot towards a sunlit window (or any light source).

In the feature Beau is Joaquin Phoenix instead of the late Billy Mayo, his keys stolen in the same situation as the short, with the same line of dialogue afterward in the hallway (“you’re fucked, pal”). He lives in a nightmarish apartment in a hellish city, takes the “always with water” pills prescribed by shrink Stephen McKinley Henderson just as his water gets cut off, dashes across the street for bottled water and every scumbag on the block occupies and destroys his apartment.

I hadn’t read much about this in advance, and with all the movies’ focus on empathizing with their character/writer neurosis, even kids’ cartoons being ranked by most accurate panic-attack portrayal, I was surprised to see that it’s not all in Beau’s head – his fears are justified, even the ones about his mother. And for the first two hours it’s a hilarious anxiety comedy – probably best that I watched this alone at home since I was hooting and hollering. Wonderful to hear a George Harrison song since I was just watching the Scorsese doc about him – less wonderful to see pathetic Beau sporting the same shirt that I’ve been known to wear to work.

Divided into acts by Beau’s blackouts after various near-death experiences, he learns from a suspiciously Bill Hader-y UPS man that his mom died in a freak accident, he’s rescued/abducted by mega-pleasant family Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane until their daughter Kylie Rogers suicides by drinking paint, then they send a twisted army vet after him into the woods, where he gets into a whole forest theater situation inspired by the “Bachelorette” video. He gets home for the funeral and the movie’s still got another hour left. Beau runs into his childhood love Parker Posey before mom appears alive and he maybe matricides her. Posey and Patti LuPone as mom are both great, and I’m always happy to see Richard Kind, but his big Defending Your Life/Truman Show trial finale is bad.