Reviewed By Linda Marric
Despite it being only her second feature, it’s easy to see why It Felt Like Love director Eliza Hittman’s newest offering Beach Rats is being talked about in the same breath as Barry Jenkins’ brilliant 2016 multi-award winning film Moonlight. With its understated mood, poetic tone and truly astounding performances, the film not only offers an honest non-judgemental portrayal of youthful bravado and coming of age, but is also a daringly gripping story of sexual awakening and coming to terms with one’s own nature.
Set for the most part on the outer edges of Brooklyn over a hot summer, Beach Rats tells the story of Frankie (Harris Dickinson), a streetwise closeted gay teenager who spends his days causing trouble with his friends, and nights flirting with older men online. After a chance meeting with beautiful Simone (Madeline Weinstein), Frankie gives in to her demands to sleep with him despite not being attracted to her physically. Things however take a new turn when Frankie finally bite the bullets and starts hooking up with men in a nearby beaches and motel rooms.
Hittman does an extraordinary job in representing the innermost fears of a deeply confused young man. Her ability to convey Frankie’s own struggles to come to term with whom he really is, is dealt by avoiding the usual clichés and tropes attached to coming of age and coming out stories. By setting the film within the confinement of a working class Brooklyn neighbourhood, Hittman also manages to immerse her audience in a world some of them would have seldom come across. A world where boys are still expected to be macho, and where being anything but straight is still regarded as something to be ashamed of.
Whilst offering a beautifully constructed narrative, Hitman also allows us as an audience to make up our minds about Frankie and his friends. At one point in the film, we are presented with a moral dilemma which is dealt with with great honestly and realism, an honesty which not many filmmakers are able to achieve or trust their own audiences to understand.
British actor Harris Dickinson is truly astounding as Frankie, his youthful beauty coupled with a genuinely impressive turn make for a great dynamic. His all American boy demeanour and near perfect Brooklyn accent are genuinely impressive, as is his ability to convey the turmoil felt by his character without ever overdoing it. A true star in the making if there was ever one.
By deliberately taking herself out of her own comfort zone instead of sticking to what she knows best, Hittman has managed to tell a beautifully nuanced and honest story without being judgemental or predictable. A genuinely astounding piece of filmmaking.
Director: Eliza Hittman
Writer: Eliza Hittman
Stars: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge
Beach Rats is in cinemas from Friday 24th of November