Beach Rats: Film review by Jack Cline

There’s an intriguingly loose touch to this provocative gay drama, echoing Gus Van Sant’s style in the way it quietly observes its characters, getting under their skin. Writer-director Eliza Hittman is telling the story from the perspective of a young man who hasn’t yet made sense of his identity. And the break-out performance from British actor Harris Dickinson is a stunner.

He plays Frankie, a teen who lives with his working-class family in Brooklyn and hangs out on the beach with his mates, scamming cash to buy weed. As Frankie develops a romance with Simone (Madeline Weinstein), she gets frustrated that he’s so tentative about it all. Indeed, in his spare time he’s cruising webcam chatrooms to find older men. Among his family and friends, Frankie can’t even imagine admitting that he’s gay. But he’s realising that he will at least have to admit it to himself.

The way this unfolds is startlingly intimate, as the camera remains very close to Dickinson, catching his offhanded glances and introspective attitude. The days feel aimless. He may have convinced his friends that he’s having a good time, and he’s trying to be a good boyfriend for Simone, but his truth is that his sexual urges can’t remain hidden forever. And watching him, we feel the pressure growing inside.

Along with Hittman’s clever direction, Dickinson gives a knock-out performance. Fit and tanned, he’s very easy on the eye. But it’s the depth of his performance and his magnetic screen presence that holds the interest. The film centres so closely on him that other characters barely exist. That said, Hittman does manage to give the three women in his life some surprising edginess: Weinstein, Kate Hodge (as his hard-working mum) and Nicole Flyus (as his sharp-minded sister).

This is visceral filmmaking that develops a strong homoerotic tone as we see through Frankie’s eyes while he and his muscled friends strip off to swim in the sea or play sports together. A couple of plot points feel rather glaring in the otherwise organic storytelling style, including the threat of some preachy moralising. But it’s a beautifully crafted film that launches Dickinson as an actor to keep an eye on.


Beach Rats (15) is in cinemas now.

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