Beach Rats Review

beach rats movie
Handsome, charismatic and 19 years old, Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is an alpha male in the Brooklyn pack with which he runs. He’s also secretly gay. Will he be able to reveal his true feelings or does a darker, lonelier path await?

by Nick de Semlyen |
Published on
Release Date:

24 Nov 2017

Original Title:

Beach Rats

Frankie (Dickinson) leads a simple life. He lives in a cramped house in Brooklyn with his father, who is dying of cancer on a hospital bed in the living room, his mother, who is trying her best to hold things together, and his younger sister, who is growing up fast and pleading for permission to get her belly button pierced. Frankie himself looks calm on the surface, but beneath it emotions are roiling and churning. He presents himself as straight, but when nobody is looking he logs onto a gay dating site called ‘Brooklyn Boys’ and hooks up with men. Each time he does, he tilts a baseball cap over his face to disguise his features.

British actor Harris Dickinson is sensational as Frankie.

Beach Rats, the second movie from director Eliza Hittman, was partially inspired by a Facebook photo — Hittman, while browsing the social-media profiles of kids from Brooklyn’s Gerritsen Beach, came across an arresting image of a young man posing shirtless, baseball cap covering his eyes. She has managed to successfully transpose the tension of that still-life selfie, a tussle between hyper-masculinity and homoeroticism, into an extremely powerful feature film. The lifestyle of Frankie and his friends is Jersey Shore-esque: when they’re not ritualistically strutting around the Coney Island boardwalk, trying to pick up girls, they’re scoring drugs or kicking back in a vape shop. It’s hard to think of a more macho backdrop for a story about a young guy struggling with his sexuality; even the female characters are unsympathetic. “When two girls make out, it’s hot,” says one. “When two guys make out, it’s gay.”

British actor Harris Dickinson, whose scant credits before Beach Rats include two episodes of Silent Witness and a turn as a young Victor Meldrew, is sensational as Frankie. Besides being utterly convincing as a muscled-up New York ‘bro’, he manages to convey the repressed anguish of a character who has no idea what his heart really wants. Lonely, alienated and brooding, Frankie swings between charm and cruelty; you feel the crushing pressure he’s under, with no outlet valve. One tragic throughline is his relationship with local girl Simone (Madeline Weinstein), whom he hooks up with one night. She’s sweet and sparky and seems to be good for him. The circumstances in which they meet are truly romantic, as she points out. But Frankie’s body resists the sexual path he tries to force it down. It’s heart-rending to watch.

In her portrayal of a tribe of swaggering male New Yorkers, Hittman evokes classic movies such as Mean Streets and Saturday Night Fever. There are obvious parallels to be drawn too with Moonlight, another gay coming-of-age story with a pivotal scene set on a beach. But Beach Rats has a woozy, lugubious atmosphere that’s unique, with French cinematographer Hélène Louvart shooting the whizzing dodgems and smoke-filled parlours in hazy 16mm, with an eye for the peculiarly melancholic. A late set-piece aboard a booze cruise, as a pilled-up Frankie starts to unravel, is so palpable in its desperation, it starts to feel like a voyage down the River Styx.

The film, alas, fails to come up with an ending as memorable as that sequence; unlike the fireworks it features at a pivotal moment, it sort of fizzles out. But it still leaves you haunted by Frankie’s predicament, a grippingly portrayed everyday nightmare.

Powered by a taciturn, soulful performance by its young star, this meditation on fear, shame and sexual repression packs a wallop.
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