Beach Rats

Beach Rats is a good coming-of-age movie from a gay perspective, but its middle portions are the most compelling.  It’s bookended by familiar emotions and the finish line is the type of gut-wrenching finale audiences expect from a sombre story like this one, but writer/director Eliza Hittman takes an interesting route to get there.

Beach Rats is about living in fear.  Frankie (played by newcomer Harris Dickinson) grows up in a family without a prominent male figure, his social relationships depend on distinguishable masculinity, and he’s attracted to older men he meets through uninhibited ChatRoulette-inspired chatrooms.  Love, friendship, and family are essential components to Frankie’s life, yet they’re judgemental enough for Frankie to suppress his true personality.  The fact that he forces himself into a heterosexual romance with fellow New Yorker Simone (Madeline Weinstein), and confesses his uncertainty to the strangers he cruises for online only makes him more self-conscious to his desperate need to fit in.

Hittman knows she’s showing the underbelly to a personal tragedy, and she wants to make the experience as raw as possible;  going so far as to have cinematographer Hélène Louvart shoot Beach Rats on Super 16mm film.  She succeeds, and her ambitious choices pay off.  The finished film even resembles a product of Larry Clark’s early career circa Kids.  Harris Dickinson also does a commendable job of winning the audience’s empathy through sparse dialogue and conflicted expressions, as well as building tension when he starts to fuse his secret life with his public persona.

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