By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Festival darling Beach Rats is a coming-of-age story that is sometimes dreary but often elevated by a superb performance by Harris Dickinson.
Brooklyn teenager Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is coming to terms with his sexuality by experimenting with guys he meets online, while also still trying to uphold his bad boy image and have a girlfriend.
Directed by Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love), and the Jury Prize winner of last year’s Mezipatra Queer Film Festival, Beach Rats is driven first and foremost by the relatively new Harris Dickinson, who’s positively dreamy aura is almost impossible to resist, not to mention the effortless subtlety in his expressions of sexual confusion and awkward self-realisation. He basically owns the whole movie.
It’s certainly not a summer romance type deal like the recent Call Me By Your Name. The gorgeous Italian sun is replaced by the stinking heat of urban sprawl and Beach Rats thrives on a darker ‘coming out’ story and holds its focus entirely on that and Frankie’s messy internal struggle. The film never strays into romance territory and that is refreshing. It’s a story that’s ultimately about getting by and surviving.
It also won Hittman a Best Director prize at Sundance which I found surprising because its pace and cast are sometimes a little out of whack. There are scenes that feel awkward, censored and poorly staged. As if the film wasn’t quite comfortable with its own subject matter. There’s one abuse scene in particular that seemed shabbily directed and almost out of place that it’s as if the film wasn’t sure about what it actually wanted to be.
It’s always wonderful to see Coney Island as a background for the more localised tales that are a little rough around the edges and Hittman utilises it well. There’s an airy summer daze of teen boredom that’s nice to watch, and reminds me of old times, and the constant references to the fireworks was also a nice touch – repeating requiems for Frankie’s homosexuality which he represses over and over and over again.
Beach Rats is a film that’ll ultimately leave you a bit depressed, but not too depressed. It’s a fairly realistic tale that never gives in to sensational drama, but in saying that, the sand could have been a bit grittier for sure!