While we’re used to high-brow arthouse horror from Ari Aster, the acclaimed writer and director of Hereditary and Midsommer, his new film, Beau Is Afraid, is a departure – and it will take you on a beautiful, but at times difficult, journey.
Beau Is Afraid stars Joaquin Phoenix as Beau Wasserman, a paranoid and anxious man living in a chaotic world who embarks on a journey to visit his famous and wealthy mother (Patti LuPone) on the anniversary of his father’s death. His father, his mother told him, died due to a genetic medical condition that killed him when he had his first orgasm the moment Beau was conceived.
Anyone who’s seen Hereditary will know that Aster is very familiar with Mommy Issues, and in Beau Is Afraid, he confronts them head-on. It’s a truly beautiful and moving film, with some of the most gorgeous live-action/animation hybrid scenes of recent.
Beau Is Afraid is unlike any Ari Aster movie before. Actually, it’s unlike any movie by any director. The typical Aster ultra-violence and ultra-gore is still present (and at times it’s difficult to look at) but that’s the world Beau is living in – everything is difficult for him to look at.
The acting performances are truly breathtaking. Phoenix and LuPone especially give some of their career-best performances, and that’s saying a lot for two acting legends.
Others, including Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Parker Posey, Kylie Rogers, and Richard Kind also deliver perfect performances that make the world feel truly real — and truly insane.
There are definitely some things in the movie that won’t work with all audiences, especially a major third-act reveal that will either leave you cackling, scratching your head, or screaming. But overall, Beau Is Afraid works a lot more than it doesn’t, and it shows that Aster is truly a master of emotional storytelling and getting the best performances out of his actors.
Out spoke with legendary actor Nathan Lane, who plays Roger, a normal-seeming surgeon who takes care of Beau in his home along with his very dysfunctional family after hitting him with their car.
Lane admits that when he first read the role, he didn’t quite understand it until he finished reading the script. And he knows the movie will be difficult to digest for some audiences.
“I'll be very curious to see how it's received,” Lane says. “And look, it's a big ask. It's a three-hour arthouse film by Ari Aster starring Joaquin Phoenix. So I would think the audience knows going in, it's a challenging piece. It's not for the faint of heart. You know, Cocaine Bear, it's not. It's for serious cinephiles, and either you want that kind of experience or you don't. I think it's masterfully made, and I think it's a fascinating piece. And haunting, it stays with you.”
“It'll be interesting to see what the experts have to say,” he continues. “I know that for Ari, this was a very personal film and something that he's been wanting to do for a very long time and never thought he would. He certainly has a huge fan base, so I know those people will show up. We've joked, I've called it the Jewish Everything Everywhere All at Once, but it'll be interesting to see if it has crossover appeal.”
However, no matter how strange and off-putting parts of the movie may be, Lane was excited to work on the project because of the top-level talent attached to it. He’d been good friends with Amy Ryan for decades despite never working directly with her, had admired Phoenix’s career as an actor, and while he wasn’t previously familiar with Aster’s films (he’s not a horror fan), he couldn’t wait to work with the filmmaker.
“I was aware of these two films, Hereditary and Midsommar, but I hadn't seen them because I would see them on television, and think, ‘Oh, I should watch this.’ And then I would say, ‘Oh, I just can't, it's too scary,’” Lane reveals. “And so then finally when I read the script and I talked to Ari, and he's a delightful person. He's so sweet and kind and just very funny, very smart. And you would not think that these twisted notions were lurking in his brain, but they are.”
Working with Phoenix was a dream project for Lane, and said the two had a great time filming the movie, even with as dark and strange as it got in many scenes.
“Joaquin, I've just admired from afar. I just think he's as good as it gets, and he just turned out to be a lovely guy and no movie star stuff, it's all about the work,” he says. “And we just wound up laughing a lot. We just had a lot of laughs doing that stuff, and figuring it all out, figuring out the tone. But he's an extraordinary actor and we all had a really great time.”
“It was really about that,” he continues. “It was about Joaquin Phoenix, getting to work with Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Ryan, who I've known for many years, and we'd never worked together. So all of that combined made it a no-brainer.”Beau Is Afraid is currently playing in theaters.