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HomeEntertainment‘Beau is Afraid:’ A Disturbing Tale of the Helicopter Mom

‘Beau is Afraid:’ A Disturbing Tale of the Helicopter Mom

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Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for A24’s “Beau is Afraid.”

Film director Ari Aster, most popularly known for directing “Midsommar” and “Hereditary,” never fails to humorously traumatize his audience and leave them muttering under their breath, “What just happened?” His most recent comedic psychodrama, “Beau is Afraid,” was released on April 14, bringing out a refreshing take on psychological horror that no one has ever thought to do on the big screen. 

Aster makes ordinary everyday scenarios turn into a crazily unexpected new perspective of paranoia. In the film, Beau decides to take a peaceful bath, but then looks up and finds a random man holding himself up against his ceiling, in which the man eventually falls down from and onto Beau in the bathtub — weird right? 

The film follows the life of a middle-aged man-child named Beau (Joaquin Phoenix), who suffers from irrational fears implemented by his overprotective “helicopter mom,” Mona (Patti LuPone). Much of his fears also stem from his father, whom he never met because he apparently died in an unfortunately freakish death before Beau was born. 

In the duration of the film, audiences are provoked to ask themselves whether the scenes they’re  watching are real or just a figment of Beau’s ludicrous imagination. For example, 12 minutes of the film displayed an animated, cartoonish depiction of Beau’s potential life — if he wasn’t so afraid of everything. After watching this film, audiences will be left with the similar delusional paranoia that Beau has suffered with his whole life — always in a feedback loop of what-ifs.

The genius filmmaker continues to impress film junkies with his casting choices. The movie was blessed with exceptionally phenomenal performances by Joaquin Phoenix as Beau, Amy Ryan as Grace, Patti LuPone as Mona, Armen Nahapatien as teen Beau, Nathan Lane as Roger, Zoe Lister-Jones as young Mona, Kylie Rogers as Toni, and Stephen McKinley Henderson as the therapist. 

Phoenix’s bewildering performances in “The Joker” and “Her” prepared movie goers for his astonishingly haunting and life-altering character of Beau, as he portrayed emotions in such a way that no other actor has. His intricate use of face acting was to die for. By looking at the way he expresses his emotions through the smallest facial muscle movements, the audience was able to interpret, in whichever way they pleased, what he was thinking in the moment. 

This method of face acting complicated the navigation of the story, as there was an ambiguity to these expressions as to what they pertained to. In one scene, Beau was calling his mother about missing his flight to see her due to some silly mistakes he made beforehand. During this call, the camera slowly zoomed into his face, focusing on the emotions he accepted to take over his actions, as well as the impulsive emotions he attempted to reject. Phoenix’s scrunch of the eyebrows and widening of the eyes revealed Beau’s attempt to feel an emotion that was false to what he was truly feeling. The recurring close ups of his elaborate face acting choices and steadily slow zoom-ins into his reactions delivered a truly raw and personal connection between Beau and the audience. 

Grace (Amy Ryan), Roger (Nathan Lane) and Toni (Kylie Rogers) played the roles of a not-so-picture-perfect family who took Beau in when he was running away from his imaginative problems. Grace was a loving mother who cared for Beau when he was in medical shambles. Ryan’s character may have seemed shallow, as he didn’t contribute much to the plot of the movie. However, are any of Aster’s characters ever meaningless? Based on the characters of this film, every single one had a purpose and gave the audience more insight into the background of the psychological terrors that so deeply poison Beau’s state of mind. Therefore, Grace wasn’t the only minor character who held significant value in the grand scheme of the story.

Rogerwas also a perceivably meaningless character but held a lot of value to the climax of the plot. There was an eerie tone to the way he comforted Beau and insisted to delay his flight to his mother even further back, so that he would be under careful watch of the family until his wound healed. 

However, the teenage daughter, Toni, established her suspicious attitude towards Beau and the way her parents unquestionably welcomed him to their home. The casting for a twisted nuclear family was perfectly chosen, as a sense of peculiar hostility was conveyed through a portrayal of a family full of forced smiles and a suspicious welcomeness. 

Beau’s mother, played by the iconic LuPone, was undoubtedly one of the creepiest characters in the whole movie. Her character portrayed a dramatized stereotype of the “helicopter mom” — a mom who goes to great lengths to hover over their children, tracking their every move. 

LuPone never fails to nail every role she plays. Best known for her soapy Broadway acting, she delivered the most terrifyingly threatening performance of a “helicopter mom” every second she was on screen — embodying a mother who had all the power in the world to watch her son’s every move just to aggravate him enough to the point where it brought out the worst of him.

Because of the ambiguous nature of the film, it appeared to be odd because of the mind-boggling cinematic choices and drastically different styles of film, which were crammed into the three hours of jaw-dropping plot twists and visuals. By leaving it open to the audience’s interpretation, it hints upon a loosely suggested narrative of a “helicopter mom” being the cause of her son’s irrational fears of the world. 

Above all, the casting and performances made the movie an absolute must-watch, as Phoenix’s and LuPone’s mother-son relationship portrayed the worst possible extent in which a “helicopter mom” could reach. 

At the core of the movie, there was a deeper message that insinuated the destruction of smothering love without the two parties even realizing that they were ultimately killing each other — metaphorically or literally. 

Cameryn Nguyen is an Arts & Entertainment Intern for the spring 2023 quarter. She can be reached at