Films at the Fox: Beau is Afraid could have been a masterpiece with the right editors

Reviewer Brady Burkett shares his take on Beau is Afraid.

Local student Brady Burkett shares his reviews of movies that have recently been shown, or will be shown, at the Fox Theatre on Queen Street East in the Beach.

By BRADY BURKETT

When I watch a film, a question that my mind tends to drift to is, “How would this play to a regular audience?” I do not think it would be presumptuous of me (if, admittedly, a tad pompous considering that I’m 15 years old) to say that I watch movies with a somewhat heavier and more critical eye for detail than the average moviegoer.

That’s not an insult to anyone who simply wishes to have a good time and not think too heavily (indeed, I wish sometimes that I could turn my critical switch off and just have a good time watching something dumb), it’s just that I have an eye for things like direction, editing, cinematography, etc… more than most, and on top of this I am generally more receptive to the surreal and allegorical.

That said, I do enjoy wondering what I would think of the movie if I wasn’t so obsessed with the finer details of filmmaking, and I’ve crafted my own personal rating scale based entirely on this concept.

Let’s say that something like the average Marvel movie is a 10 out of 10, and something like Everything Everywhere All at Once sits at around a five or six. Walking out of Beau is Afraid, although I was certainly torn on what I was going to rate the actual quality of the film on my usual scale, I knew for certain where it landed on my other scale: something like a two or three out of 10.

Beau is Afraid is the newest work from director Ari Aster, responsible for modern horror classics such as Hereditary and Midsommar, movies that I have yet to experience for myself because I am a little scaredy-cat who does not like horror. Beau is Afraid, however, grabbed me immediately with its fascinatingly surreal trailer, looking all at once comedic, terrifying, and epic in scope. Early reviews of the film were mixed, but nonetheless it looked like something I would thoroughly enjoy, and so one weekend with nothing to do I bought a ticket and went to see the movie at the Fox.

Beau is Afraid tells the story of Beau Wasserman, an extremely paranoid middle-aged man who embarks on an epic, surreal, nightmarish and completely insane odyssey to go visit his mother, with whom he has an extremely complicated and codependent relationship and who may or may not be alive. At least, that’s more or less how the film’s official description goes, and what the trailer implies, but “odyssey” may be too strong a word here. The trailer is extremely misleadingly edited to make you believe that Beau will be on this journey for decades, but the actual timespan of the film is only a few days or so, and the scale is ultimately much smaller than what one would expect.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because first we must discuss the positives, of which there are many.

The easiest place to start, because it is the simplest part of the film to praise, is the performances. Absolutely every member of the cast gives 110 per cent into this extremely strange and inaccessible material, and their energy really shines through in a movie with a runtime that could easily (and, in fact, does often despite the actor’s best efforts) drag or become dull.

Highlights include Nathan Lane playing the embodiment of every middle-aged suburban dad rolled into one and Parker Posey, who… well, I won’t spoil it. The highlight of the movie, however, is Joaquin Phoenix, who embodies Beau so completely that you feel his confused terror in every single instant. It’s a performance without a hint of self-awareness or camera-winking, which is absolutely necessary for material that needs to feel like an actual nightmare.

The direction is also top-notch. Inside individual scenes, the movie is edited extremely well, perfectly portraying the slow build of oddly comedic terror in almost every instant, but it’s the cinematography and especially the production design that are truly something special. There are so many memorable and well-crafted shots, which are only amplified by the almost inhumanly good production design, which crams each location with so many tiny, intricate details that reward attentiveness and make the odd world feel truly lived-in. It’s easily one of the very best things about the movie.

There are a lot of good things about the screenplay, as well.

It’s frequently absolutely hilarious in an extremely dark, twisted way, which fits perfectly with the nightmarish atmosphere. The opening 40 minutes, as Beau desperately navigates a situation that continues to get worse and worse for him in increasingly absurd and downright ludicrous ways (a cleaning man at his apartment randomly walking up him and saying, “You’re f….d pal,” for no reason and then leaving without explanation got one of my biggest laughs in the whole movie) is an absolute riot.

The tone shifts to a more serious one very naturally throughout, and there are plenty of memorable sequences and moments. It’s also very effective allegorically and symbolically, portraying the Oedipal themes in ways both subtle and extremely blatant.

There is so much to love about Beau is Afraid… but that runtime. This movie is one minute shy of being three hours long, and it does not earn that length no matter what justification you attempt.

The themes, despite being effectively portrayed, are quite simple and absolutely did not require this much time to portray them. The actual “quest” that Beau himself goes on is, as we have previously gone over, actually quite short and simple, with him only wandering into two or three proper set pieces that he spends an extremely long amount of time in before he finally reaches his destination. Then, once said destination is reached, there are still 40 minutes of the movie left, at which point the pacing slows to an absolute crawl. By the time the movie finally ended, I felt burnt out, and not in the good way that I believe the film intended.

There is probably a 9 or even 10/10 version of Beau is Afraid sitting somewhere in the editing room. Unfortunately, the film is too indulgent to properly edit itself down, and thus the final product drags, and drags really hard.

Still, the majority of what is here is still absolutely excellent filmmaking, just excellent filmmaking that could have been shown to us much more economically. I can’t really say I recommend Beau is Afraid, both for its unnecessary runtime and its general accessibility, but what I can say is that it’s a really great movie. It’s just one that could have been a masterpiece with the right editors.

I give it a rating of eight out of 10.

The Fox Theatre is located at 2236 Queen St. E. Beau is Afraid recently played at the Fox. For more information on upcoming films playing at the Fox, please visit https://www.foxtheatre.ca

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brady Burkett is a local resident and high school student. The opinions in the reviews are his, and the reviews are not sponsored or vetted by the Fox Theatre.


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