Dis­arm­ing char­ac­ter study

Beach Rats is about be­ing gay and in de­nial


Beach Rats fol­lows Frankie (Har­ris Dick­in­son), an at­trac­tive, six-ab-chis­eled young gay man in Brook­lyn who re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

Carous­ing with his three bro buds, Frankie spends a ma­jor­ity of his time bored on the beach in Coney Is­land, va­p­ing, deal­ing drugs and es­cap­ing from his claus­tro­pho­bic home, where his cancer-stricken fa­ther re­ceives pal­lia­tive care and his fret­ful mother and younger sis­ter only an­noy him.

It’s not the most spec­tac­u­lar ex­is­tence, but Frankie has the ben­e­fit of be­ing gor­geous, and he quickly gets the at­ten­tion of Si­mone (Made­line We­in­stein), a smart, con­fi­dent brunette with a slight Jer­sey nasal­ity.

“Do you think I’m pretty?” she asks him twice, to lit­tle re­ply.

Frankie, un­der the pres­sure from his beach hood­lums to act as dude-bro straight as pos­si­ble, plays along with her flirt­ing, even at one point ask­ing her point blank to be his girl­friend.

Nev­er­the­less, he finds it nearly im­pos­si­ble to nav­i­gate het­ero dat­ing pro­to­col (or sex­ual in­ti­macy, for that mat­ter).

When Frankie re­peats the ques­tion back to Si­mone while hold­ing up her bra to his chest, his tone comes off as half-mock­ing, half-gen­uine. She’s of­fended ei­ther way, while he’s re­ally ask­ing the ques­tion rhetor­i­cally about him­self.

The prowl­ing men Frankie finds on we­b­cam cha­t­rooms be­lieve he’s pretty; that is, when he’s not afraid of show­ing his face.

Beach Rats is a care­ful char­ac­ter study, and with Dick­in­son, Amer­i­can indie di­rec­tor El­iza Hittman has hit gold.

The Bri­tish ac­tor, who pulls off an Amer­i­can ac­cent and a Brook­lyn “bro” at­ti­tude ef­fort­lessly, could not be more per­fect for the part, par­tic­u­larly his big, beau­ti­ful, soul-search­ing eyes, which do much of the act­ing for him.

There is much con­fu­sion in Frankie’s ac­tions, but his eyes re­veal a sad sen­si­tiv­ity his ma­cho per­sona can­not keep hid­den.

Nar­ra­tively, Beach Rats moves slowly, fo­cus­ing on the tonal at­mos­phere of Coney Is­land.

French cin­e­matog­ra­pher Hélène Lou­vart as­sists with cin­e­matog­ra­phy shot on 16mm; the re­sults are lus­trous and si­mul­ta­ne­ously del­i­cate, fea­tur­ing lin­ger­ing, lugubri­ous shots of sum­mer party fire­works, moon­lit beach waves and splashes of colour, lights and shad­ows fall­ing on Frankie’s and other char­ac­ters’ faces.

Some­times, the fo­cus on such shots be­comes too in­dul­gent, like a scene at a vape bar in­volv­ing smoke rings, but oth­er­wise the film car­ries out its aes­thetic au­then­ti­cally.

It builds a world that’s as dis­ori­ent­ing as it is beau­ti­ful, a com­ing-of-age at­mos­phere per­fect for soul-search­ing, but one that, in the case of Frankie, holds lit­tle res­o­lu­tion.

In­deed, the film’s one short­com­ing is a rather hastily writ­ten end­ing.

The pesky task of res­o­lu­tion can­not be ig­nored, and Beach Rats falls prey to a pre­dictable ho­mo­pho­bic bul­ly­ing am­bush that does lit­tle to ex­tend or build upon Frankie’s psy­cho­log­i­cal in­te­rior.

Thank­fully, the in­ci­dent takes lit­tle time and the cam­era fin­ishes with long takes of the beach, its en­velop­ing waves a sym­bolic and chaotic chasm that metaphor­i­cally con­tains all of Frankie’s se­crets.

Har­ris Dick­in­son stars in Beach Rats.

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