Those aimless and directionless days we’ve all had exploring can lead to some fairly dark and kind of weird places…
While writer/director Eliza Hittman follows up her award winning It Felt Like Love here with Beach Rats hitting on some similar yet poignant themes the film ends up being a little too clunky and not nearly as important or deep as it thinks it is.
Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is an aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn who is having a miserable summer. With his father dying and his mother wanting him to find a girlfriend, Frankie escapes by causing trouble with his delinquent friends and flirting with older men online. As his chatting and webcamming intensify, Frankie simultaneously enters into a cautious relationship with a young woman. Inevitably, Frankie’s struggle to reconcile his competing desires lead to irreparable consequences.
It’s not hard to get drawn into the emotion of a very believable story thanks to a great performance, but the overt leaning on style and visuals makes Beach Rats feel more than a little disconnected from its source material and just playing out as a sweaty piece of avant garde filmmaking.
Hittman has an undeniable eye giving this corner of Brooklyn that her story is set in the feeling that has been sheltered from the modern age and is straight out of yesteryear. The visuals are stark and a little sweaty evoking memories of films from William Friedkin & Sidney Lumet as they troll through the underbelly of this New York borough. She captures the indecision of youth quite well as we see these characters trying to discover themselves in a framework that may not necessarily accept things that they are trying to find out about the very existence. We buy into the struggle, but outside of the lead performance we just don’t have a great deal invested in anyone or anything else that goes on in this story and it could have used some fleshed out characters and depth to make it feel like something poignant or worthwhile. Style always seems to overwhelm emotional depth and while that certainly makes for something visually engaging, we needed more.
Thankfully she does have it in a very solid performance from relative newcomer Harris Dickinson. As he explores the character of Frankie we see a kid at a crossroads with no direction and trying to explore anything that he can. While the outside pressures from friends and family to ‘get a girlfriend’ do weigh on him, he can’t help but be interested in the secluded hook ups that he engages in with older men. He’s knows it will be treated as something ‘wrong’ from those closest around him and the angst that he shows in his exploration is believable not knowing what to do in this emotional part of his life on the brink of losing his father. Dickinson has some genuine chops to him and potential moving forward, but the film fails him by giving him next to no support from any of the other supporting characters. He’s left alone on the stage, which is interesting but only to a point.
Ultimately, Beach Rats does a lot more right than it does wrong, but it just doesn’t have the emotional resonance that something like Moonlight had or the upcoming Call Me By Your Name has.