Coney Island’s grungy boardwalk and the gone-to-seed attractions are the setting for director Eliza Hittman’s vividly rendered second feature, focused on the laconic, often shirtless teens who while away their summer there. The film captures a working-class Brooklyn that’s rarely celebrated on screen (when Hannah Horvath found herself stranded in the neighbourhood in ‘Girls’, it came across like an alien planet). ‘Beach Rats’ also continues Hittman’s exploration of budding sexuality, but where her first effort, ‘It Felt Like Love’, 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 (Walthamstow’s Harris Dickinson, nailing the accent) can’t wait to get out of his apartment, where his father is dying and his nervous mum peppers him with questions. But even though the girls swarm around him, he gets his kicks flirting online anonymously with men. Clearly, his interest is real, if hesitant, yet when Frankie’s mates find out, he panics. 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 quandary with more depth, instead it settles for something blocked and oblique but still fascinating.