How Albert Brooks’ Comedies Keep Influencing the ‘Midsommar’ Guy
Ari Aster is best known for directing anxiety-inducing movies such as Hereditary and Midsommar, and now he’s back with a new, also seemingly very upsetting film: the Joaquin Phoenix-starring dark comedy Beau is Afraid. Aster is currently hard at work promoting the film by… bailing on Q&As in order to drop acid with Nathan Fielder?
While Aster’s films are distinctly gory and abjectly unpleasant, oddly enough, one of his biggest inspirations is a legit comedy legend: Albert Brooks. (Which may explain the Nathan Fielder thing.) For example, Midsommar is a breakup movie, albeit one that ends in ritual sacrifice. Aster specifically cited Brooks’ Modern Romance as a key influence, telling IndieWire at the time, “The breakup movie that I thought about first is just my favorite of those, and that’s Albert Brooks’ Modern Romance because it’s my favorite breakup movie ever.”
And though the plots of the two movies obviously differ considerably, they share a frequently palpable sense of discomfort. To be honest, pretty much every single scene in Modern Romance where Brooks’ character seems to neurotically implode after splitting up with his girlfriend is more agonizing to watch than 1,000 Swedish death cults.
Clearly, between Hereditary and Beau is Afraid, Aster is interested in exploring characters with overbearing mothers. Well, Brooks, too, made a film on this subject: 1996’s Mother. Although at no point in Brooks’ movie did the titular matriarch start crawling on the goddamn ceiling.
Aster praised Mother in an article he wrote examining the “Uncomfortable Comedies” of Albert Brooks, which also paved the way for this bizarre interaction between the two directors.
Much of Aster’s essay focuses on Brooks’ all-time great romantic comedy Defending Your Life, which, not unlike Midsommar, also features a cast mostly dressed in ceremonial white robes.
Defending Your Life is, at its core, about fear and conquering one’s own bullshit anxieties. Well, Beau is Afraid is also about a guy who is overcome with fear, and it ends with a scene that some critics have claimed “borrows heavily” from Defending Your Life. Should this trend continue, presumably, we can all look forward to a grotesque nightmarish movie about a talking clownfish.
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