An aimless Brooklyn teen makes hesitant headway into his closeted sexuality in Eliza Hittman's keenly observed drama.
Coney Island’s grungy boardwalk and the gone-to-seed attractions of a bygone era make up the setting of Eliza Hittman’s vividly rendered second feature, focused on the laconic, frequently shirtless teens who while away their summer there. Like Hittman’s It Felt Like Love (2013), the film captures an unglamorous working-class South Brooklyn that’s rarely celebrated onscreen (when Girls’ Hannah Horvath found herself stranded in the neighborhood during one episode, it registered like an alien planet). Beach Rats also continues Hittman’s exploration of budding sexuality, but where her first effort achieved an intimacy that felt autobiographical, its follow-up plays a touch generically, especially in the wake of the similarly themed Moonlight.
Handsome, aloof Frankie (British newcomer Harris Dickinson, persuasively nailing a soft borough accent) can’t wait to get out of his apartment, where his father is dying from cancer and his nervous mom peppers him with questions. But even though the girls swarm around him, Frankie gets more kicks flirting online anonymously with men. Clearly, his interest is real—if hesitant and unformed—yet when Frankie’s bro posse finds out about his habit, he panics and tells them it’s just his way of poking fun. The criminal scam that emerges puts a lump in your throat: Will Frankie let his first steps into a new identity get hijacked for mean-spirited shakedowns? Beach Rats could have explored that ethical quandary with more depth; instead it settles for something blocked, oblique and fascinating.
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Cast and crew