Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats evokes the images of Brooklyn that were common before the city became a glossy, hipster Mecca. It’s sticky, sweaty, crowded, even grimy.
It’s high summer and a directionless teenager named Frankie (captivating newcomer Harris Dickinson) is whiling away the hours with his boys — delinquent youths who love hitting the boardwalk and getting wasted. They love that Frankie can swipe high-powered pills from home — where his father lies dying from cancer. He just wants the escape. And we, the viewer, are given a fly on the wall perspective as Frankie grapples with his troubles at home, his image with his friends, a potential new girlfriend and his secret online flirtations with older men.
Hittman’s story is a confident, thought-provoking reflection of the cultural pressures of heteronormative masculinity. “I don’t know what I like,” becomes Frankie’s mantra, a sort of prayer he says to himself before engaging in sexual activities that bring him pleasure and shame in equal measure. He says it even as he comes into certainty and begins to test the world around him for signs of acceptance.
Hittman trusts in the power of Dickinson’s emotive performance to clue us into all the little details. The story is self-assured enough not to spell everything out for the viewer, but rather, to put context before us and ask our minds to do the rest. The environment, the mise en scene and the cinematography heighten the sense of anxiety and paranoia so that we come to know the space in which Frankie lives.
Beach Rats is a lushly shot, thoughtful portrait that announces the arrival of a confident new talent in Harris Dickinson, even as it cements Hittman as a director with a keen eye and plenty to say.