Winner of Sundance Film Award for direction, Eliza Hittman brings us the story of a young man obsessed with body image and constantly changing feelings towards sexuality. Frankie (Harris Dickinson) spends his time lifting weights, chilling at a vape lounge, and hanging out with his friends – who steal from cash from tourists. His hypermasculine lifestyle is challenged as he cruises gay websites and engages in random hook-ups with older men.
Having already seen Hittman’s previous feature ‘It Felt Like Love‘, I expected much of the same again; soft focus exploration of the male body ripped torsos and built arms. Once again the film is set near the sea, where the characters are seemingly bored and almost have to invent their own world to be entertained.
‘Beach Rats‘ has a narrative that encounters some problems. Without revealing too much, you will think by the end that the scenarios the characters find themselves in are all too contrived. It is obvious that this is a picture that deals with changing masculinity, and is less concerned with narrative realism. Yet it still has extremes that are pushed too far.
Having said that, the characters seem to behave erratically as Frankie visits his dying father. Dickinson is fantastic as the troubled lead, as is his mother (Kate Hodge), and his girlfriend Simone (Madeline Weinstein). Their reactions to Frankie’s withdrawn and ill-tempered attitude are unapologetically delivered.
A lot of the narrative is told through a close-up of Frankie behind his computer and in front of his mirror and webcam. He hides behind his cap and in the shadows, lamp switched off. The secrecy created in these moments is interesting. Dickinson, at one point, literally hides behind his hands, and when his face is then revealed it tells us all we need to know.
The handheld camera is immediately unsettling. It has its pros and cons. The action seems frantic and desperate at times, matching Frankie as a character. Yet it is sometimes overused. There are sequences that read well on paper. Frankie’s first hook-up, for instance, is realised on screen as the older man he has met up with walks into the ocean. With this shot, it is an absolutely great idea but is taken too late a night. It is too dark to really fully understand it. This weirdly reminded me of some of the sequences from ‘Under The Skin‘, though vastly different tones and conclusions are reached.
Hittman is clearly a director with strong ideas, I am looking forward to whichever film comes next.
Zach Roddis |
Drama, LGBT | USA, 2017 | 15 | 24th November 2017 (UK)| Peccadillo Pictures | Dir.Eliza Hittman | Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge | Check Listings