Beau Afraid, Beau Very Afraid (CREDIT: Takashi Seida/A24)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Zoe Lister-Jones, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Patti LuPone, Richard Kind, Parker Posey, Kylie Rogers, Denis Ménochet, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires, Armen Nahapetian

Director: Ari Aster

Running Time: 179 Minutes

Rating: R for Sex, Naked Stabbings, Giant Testicles, Peer Pressure, and Just an All-Around Disturbing Odyssey

Release Date: April 14, 2023(New York and L.A. Theaters)/Expands April 21

What’s It About?: Beau Wasserman (Joaquin Phoenix) is just trying to get home to visit his mom Mona (Zoe Lister-Jones in flashbacks, Patti LuPone in the present day). He’s really, really trying to! But you wouldn’t believe the obstacles in his way! She’s skeptical that he’s making the most honest effort, but we get to see what he has to deal with. He lives in the most outrageously dangerous part of town, which leads to his apartment being broken into and then epically destroyed. Then a series of comically violent misunderstandings concludes with him being plowed down in traffic. Luckily, the people who hit him are a seemingly lovely couple (Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane) who take him into their home while he’s healing. Not so luckily, their teenage daughter (Kylie Rogers) is an absolute nightmare, and their late son’s Army buddy (Denis Ménochet) is seriously disturbed. Beau eventually breaks free enough to go on a spiritual journey of sorts and eventually arrive at his childhood home. But will it be too late for him to get his mother to confess what really happened between them when he was growing up?

What Made an Impression?: When dealing with a 3-hour movie like Beau Is Afraid, we all of course want to know: is it possible to make it through the whole thing without nodding off or losing patience? I can confidently say that writer-director Ari Aster and his totally game cast held my attention the whole time, though your results may vary. There are gonzo left turns around every corner, which some might find profoundly exhausting. But if you can get on the right wavelength, it’ll be quite fulfilling and invigorating.

The whole film dances on the precipice between real and surreal. Just when I think I can come up with a logical explanation for how this could all possibly happen, suddenly a giant phallic monster shows up. It’s biblical, I must say. This might as well have been called Ari Aster’s Old Testament.

I think the skeleton key might lie in the opening scene, as Beau meets with his therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and gets a new, somewhat dangerous prescription. Everything that follows might be a trip through Beau’s subconscious, and not exactly of the most ethical variety. The doc may very well be in cahoots with Mona, and they may have cooked up a fantastical scheme to test Beau’s love. I hope that this isn’t a metaphor for Aster’s relationship with his own mother, but if it is, I pray that it can serve as an opening for them to heal their own wounds. (And that same sentiment holds true for anyone who’s had a rough relationship with a parent!)

Beau Is Afraid is Recommended If You Like: The Game, The Book of Job

Grade: 4 out of 5 Guilt Trips