‘Beach Rats’ is a Frustrating Coming of Age Tale of Uncertain Identity

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Beach Rats

In Eliza Hittman’s latest film, Beach Rats, the young man at the center of the film struggles with his own identity amidst a sweaty summer on the outskirts of Brooklyn. It’s a coming of age story of sorts, one where the lead character has to confront death within his family and the uncertainty of his own sexual identity. Despite a solid performance by its young star Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats is a movie that always feels on the verge of a breakthrough that never arrives. In a lot of ways, Beach Rats is a lower class white version of Moonlight, but without the poignant poetic nature that made Barry Jenkins’ film so transcendent.

Frankie (Dickinson) is an aimless young man. Over the summer, he spends time with his delinquent friends on the beach, looking for pot to smoke and women to conquer. At home, Frankie’s father is dying of cancer, and the young man is able to cope with the impending death by taking his father’s medication, smashing the pills and snorting them. He meets Simone (Madeline Weinstein), and the two start a tenuous relationship. However, at nights when he’s all alone, Frankie scours a website for local gay men, engaging in sexual activities with older men. Of course, Frankie can’t really bring this side of his life to the forefront, as any suggestion of homosexuality would lead to a shunning by his closest friends.

Much of Frankie’s struggle is deeply internalized in the film, and Harris Dickinson delivers a tremendous performance in bringing that internal conflict to the forefront. But the script by Eliza Hittman seems to tread water in keeping its characters in more or less the same situation for 90 minutes. You keep waiting for a conflict to emerge that never materializes, and it makes it hard to become fully invested in the story because the entirety of the film’s tension is internal. There’s a naturalistic feel to the film’s aesthetic that lends a sense of authenticity to its subject matter, but it’s in service of a story where it feels as if the characters haven’t gone anywhere by the film’s conclusion. It causes the more interesting aspects of Beach Rats to cede towards its frustrating inertness.

Beach Rats isn’t a failure but it never fully lives up to the promise of its presence, as it’s apprehensive to fully dive into the nature of toxic masculinity that may cause someone to hide their true selves out of fear of judgment by their friends. It’s a film that for all of its attempts to being something more falls into the shadows of Moonlight and doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Beach Rats
  • Overall Score
2.5

Summary

A coming of age story that is often more frustrating than illuminating, Beach Rats features a breakout performance by Harris Dickinson but underwhelms as a whole as its story just treads water for much of its running time.

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