In Eliza Hittman’s second feature “Beach Rats”, a young man tries to come to terms with his sexuality. Pressured by his mother and his friends, he soon finds a girlfriend. Nonetheless, Frankie – the protagonist – fails to fulfil his duties as her boyfriend, and he can’t help hooking up with older men by night.

He is soon part of two worlds in contrast: the heteronormative group of his old friends, and the gay community he is slowly trying to fit into. Later, Frankie tries to build a bridge between these two groups, but soon realises the challenge might be much harder than he had thought.

This is especially emphasised towards the end of the film. Frankie’s hookup is a nice guy, he acts as if looking for a boyfriend, and is at peace with his sexuality. On the other hand, Frankie is struggling with his sexuality and masculinity, and his attempts to unite the two worlds bring to violence. This represents a contrast between the “civilised” and self-aware gay community, and Frankie’s “wild” and conservative friend group.

Among other things, “Beach Rats” – which premiered this year at Sundance, and is now in competition at Locarno Festival in the Cineasti del Presente section – is characterised by extremely good acting. Harris Dickinson couldn’t have hoped for a better film debut: he portrays Frankie in the most genuine way, and his performance is flawless. His character’s personality is complex, and the role requires nudity and sex scenes, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Nonetheless, Dickinson manages to convey Frankie’s internal struggle in a sincere way, and to make every single scene important for his character’s development.
In fact, nudity in “Beach Rats” is never gratuitous, but always brings something new to the story and/or one of the characters.

Also notable is Kate Hodge’s portrayal of his mother Donna, who is struggling to understand her son while mourning her late husband. Her performance is outstandingly genuine, and makes the audience sympathise with her character.

The film has a distinct visual style, and the colour palette – together with the predominance of night-time scenes – reflects the mood of the film and Frankie’s internal struggle.

The soundtrack sets a constant mood, symbolising the lack of change in Frankie: the story unfolds and the world around him changes, but he still fails to accept his homosexuality.
The only exception to Frankie’s constant denial of his true self is the ending, which suggests a possible move towards self-acceptance.

“Beach Rats” – through great acting, an interesting plot, stunning visuals, and a gripping soundtrack – offers an insight on Frankie’s struggle in coming to terms with his sexuality. Director Eliza Hittman manages to convey this clash of emotions in a sincere way, steering away from stereotypes and clichés, and making “Beach Rats” a film not to be missed.

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