A24 and Netflix finely season their newest collaboration: dark dramedy Beef, a searing depiction of road rage taken to its most outrageous extreme. Showrunner/writer/creator Lee Sung Jin wrings masterful performances from both Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, both of whom have never been better. Throughout a ten-episode run, Beef builds up an increasingly tense atmosphere, propelled by the strength of its complex characters and a shockingly great soundtrack that includes Hoobastank, Keane, and even Björk.
Danny (Yeun), a suicidal independent contractor whose business seems on its last legs, is already having a bad day well before his encounter with Amy (Wong), a headstrong entrepreneur on the cusp of being a millionaire. After being denied a return on a hibachi grill courtesy of an extremely condescending employee, Danny nearly gets into a car accident pulling out of his parking space in the lot. In an obvious moment of frustration, Danny backs up, almost hitting Amy’s vehicle with his truck. She promptly flips him off and blares her horn, peeling out of the lot before he even sees Amy’s face. This is enough to set Danny off though—he charges after her on a high stakes pursuit through suburbia.
From this opener alone, it becomes clear quite quickly that both of these individuals are rather deranged. At the very least, they hold an incredible amount of rage within them just waiting to burst out when provoked. The debut episode establishes their preposterous feud, ending in a semi-literal pissing content of big egos and face to face confrontations. From here, the audience is taken on a propulsive journey through past trauma, complex relationships, catfishing, sabotage, and eye-opening life lessons. This one seemingly inconsequential event causes a ripple effect that resonates waves of change across the extremely separate lives of Danny and Amy.
In typical A24 fashion, Beef has a particular style that feels elevated from typical dramedy fare. A slick, stylized presentation coupled with aforementioned comedic stylings keeps Beef light before it dives headfirst into shocking territory in the home stretch of episodes. Tertiary characters that seem initially rather inconsequential are vital to the endgame—this includes Danny’s distant brother, Paul (Young Mazino), Amy’s well-intentioned husband, George (Joseph Lee), and the incessant drug dealer, Isaac (David Choe), whom is owed over $20,000 from Danny. I loved the way that Paul folds into the overall story, and found myself becoming surprisingly invested in the way his point of view is played out.
Beef carefully walks the line between comedy and drama, dealing with some dark material that not everyone will be able to get behind. This includes elements of suicide, mental health struggles, sexual frustrations, child endangerment, and more. As the toxic interaction that sparked the series in the first place builds towards an exciting close, Wong and Yeun remain stellar and even revelatory. Yeun’s range was always familiar to me, so it was Wong, who I only knew from various voice work and charming Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe, that truly shattered my expectations. The combination of their chemistry and copious screen time together remains intoxicating from beginning to end. Come for the A24 vibes, stay for the layers of intrigue and addictive performances!
Beef screened at 2023’s SXSW Film Festival, and gets served up raw to Netflix subscribers on Thursday, April 6th.