Ari Aster’s Beau is Afraid tries to be Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche but ends up more Darren Aronofsky’s Mother, an exhausting and unintelligible portrayal of deep psychological damage. There is some very good stuff, including then many 180-degree pans, the match-cut transitions, the blue paint overdose scene and the fantastic animated sequence.
But there is much more of the very bad stuff – countless scenes tediously rendered – and very stupid stuff too, including the inane finale and, yes, the penis monster.
After the stellar work of Hereditary ($10 million budget) and Midsommar ($9 million), this is what Aster does with $25 million? Yikes. What’s next? Courtside seats for the Knicks?
While I’m fan of Kaufman’s work (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Anomalisa, et al) and admire a writer’s attempt to pry open the meaning of self, this film makes nebulous look adamantine. Characters swimming in vagaries of subconscious angst. All that. And…no.
A story can’t be all dreams and poetry and philosophy because there’s no place for the reader to hang their hat. Definable characters are needed. Without them, we’re nothing.
I’m a sucker for film. Most of all, I love the opening moments, the dimming of the theater lights, the black of the screen, the slow fade in of sound, the distributor’s logo coming in. All of that magical promise lies ahead…a feeling which lasts maybe five minutes, when the realization sinks in that this is just another wooden story that will go on and on, dull and predictable, films like The Martian and The Revenant torturing viewers with the the same ups and down until – surprise, surprise – our hero triumphs again. Goody.Accoladed films like Carol and Youthmoan down a similarly dreary course, a tedium of monotonous reflection and ordeal until everyone, including the audience, runs out of gas.And these are supposed to be the worthwhile films of the year, all nominated for the gold statuettes, making me realize that there’s no point in going to the movies.
Ah, but then, out of the dim, arises Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, a film also focused on life’s futility, excessively so, and yet turns out to be a wonder. The wonder of the film is not in the characters, not the dialogue or the story, nor even the stop-motion animation. Instead it’s in the craft of the moment, the startling realization that all of the secondary characters have the same face and voice, the awkward interactions of sex initiated and carried through, the brief terror elicited when the protagonist picks at the seams in his face, seeming ready to pull it off to reveal…what? This is why I go to the movies, to find films like Anomalisa, where I forget about my uncomfortable seat, even dreary old time, and am transported, just as promised.
Not surprisingly, Kaufman’s crowd-funded film is not nominated for Best Feature at the Oscar, but instead for Animated Feature, which it will likely lose to Pixar’s Inside Out.