Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats is sometimes subtly gorgeous, sometimes distinctly hard to watch. It is a brutally sensuous experience of teenage angst in sexual awakening.
Brooklynite Frankie (Harris Dickinson) repeatedly tells older men he meets online that he “doesn’t know what he likes.” He keeps this lifestyle hidden from his family, his drug-hungry friends, and his new girlfriend Simone (Madeline Weinstein). Frankie doesn’t know what he wants, but it is clear in his every facial expression that he wants something that he doesn’t have.
Frankie’s life is comprised almost entirely of emotional repression. In the company of others, his face is stony and dissatisfied. Not only is he sexually confused, but if he had certainty he couldn’t confide in those around him.
Hittman’s eye does not sugar coat Frankie’s situation. When we first see him meet a man, they have sex covertly in the night. It is a scene framed grotesquely, almost in a way that makes it appear as if Frankie is pulling away from the man. Later, he will meet another man in a motel and they will share a quiet, thoughtful moment. The way he is going about finding his sexuality is erratic and reckless, and thus it is never sentimentalized.
Beach Rats is beautifully composed and painfully intimate. Dickinson suppresses so much without shutting the audience out from his character’s intense internal strife. The only limiting factor is the film’s tangential climax, which has some cause and effect ramifications but otherwise reads unsuitable for Frankie’s overall story. Still, the final images in the denouement are utterly rattling.
Beach Rats: B+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)