Beau is Afraid: Not A Mother's Day Movie

Cineplex recently posted some Mother's Day movie suggestions now in theaters, one of them being Beau is Afraid. I couldn't help but feel a certain dread at the idea of Ari Aster's latest film being recommended for mothers and sons. Don’t get me wrong, Beau is Afraid, is a vast spectacle of a film that succeeds as being one of Aster's most complex robust works as a director, almost hitting the three hour mark. The film dives into some deep rooted maternal issues, to which my friend stated after our first viewing, “I think Ari Aster needs a hug.” I saw it for the first time in IMAX which was truly worth the experience, and beats the contest I entered at the Imperial theater with Aster in attendance.

The film opens up to a black screen and the sound of induced labor. We then meet Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) who is meeting with his therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) to discuss his anxieties and to let him know that he’s flying out to meet his mother on the anniversary of the death of his father. His mother lets him know that his father died and left him with a congenital heart problem and tells Beau that he should not have sexual relationships due to his heart condition. 

Beau lives in an urban city where there seems to be no sense of moral decorum within the streets, but it would not be far-fetched to say that it’s all in his sense of his own paranoia in creating this urban nightmare. After a scene where he misplaces his keys and locks himself out of his apartment, he can’t get out to see his mother, which she guilt trips Beau about over the phone. Finally getting back to his apartment he gets a call from a UPS driver saying that his mom is dead, to which Beau begins his journey to get to his mothers house. However it does not end well where he is assaulted by an individual, has a run in with the law, and finally gets hit by an ice cream truck.

Certain recurring scenes are flashbacks of a younger Beau (Armen Nahapetian) on a cruise trip with his mother befriends where he falls in love with Elaine (Julia Antonelli), who is also on a trip with their mother. As much as they form a strong friendship bond and romance blooms, it is taken away but a promise is made to reconnect later on in life. In another flashback there is Beau’s mother who is trying to get him to take a bath to a reluctant Beau who keeps on asking about his father. His mother then forces a young Beau up in the attic crawlspace. He wakes up under the gentle care of Grace (Amy Ryan) and Roger (Nathan Lane). Along in the household would be their rambunctious teenage daughter  Toni (Kylie Rogers) and an unstable Army Veteran Jeeves (Denis Menochet). Beau gets a call from his mother’s lawyer, Dr Cohen, (Richard Kind) stating that his mother can only be laid to rest once Beau gets to the house. Roger tries his best to get Beau to his mother, however, there is a sense of derailment due to prior commitments on Roger's behalf  or Beau’s inability to progress through his emotions about going home. Beau is forced to go on the run whilst being hunted by Jeeves, resulting in his continued quest to get back home. Some of the best dark comedic moments are found in this chapter due to the performances of Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan, and just like my Toni Collette Heredity nightmares, their performances will be overlooked come award season.

The films then takes on a meta approach as Beau gets lost in the forest and finds a theater troupe of actors putting on a play that is reminiscent of his own pilgrimage. It also shows, however,  into the future of what Beau’s life would be through some clever animation sequences from Cristobal León & Joaquín Cociña. There is a symbolic of Beau, breaking his chains but also tells actual Beau he knows who his father is. The revelation is hijacked by Jeeves who ambushes the theater troop forcing Beau deeper into the forest.

I won’t reveal most of the end of the film because that’s is one of Aster’s specialties to leave the audience with questions rather than answers, however, I can describe the ending as the ultimate guilt trip. Not the movie that I would recommend for any mother’s day viewing, Cineplex had that wrong, but maybe the lighter fare of Book Club: The Next Chapter (2023) would be better and save on the therapy bills later. As far as Aster’s previous films, Beau is Afraid is his most challenging and his most ambitious, and deals more with themes of dynamics between mother and son that Hereditary similarly delves into. At this I feel that Aster has succeeded. Joaquin Phoenix delivers another great performance as Beau through his vulnerability, with nuanced character traits through his previous characters blending into Beau. Some of the critics and audiences disliked the film, describing it as a mess at best due to it’s ambitious nature.

Maybe we can all agree that this film is not a Mother’s Day film and Ari Aster needs a hug.


Remi co-host’s  At The Movies, which can be heard every Tuesday morning from 8:00 - 9:00AM. Tune in for discussions about movies, soundtracks, and iconic film scores. At The Movies also covers film festivals that are located in Montreal.