Beach Rats Drama

'Beach Rats' Film Review: A promising coming-of-age tale muddled by masculinity and underwhelming performances

September 22, 2017Justin Waldman

In Beach Rats, writer/director Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love) takes a promising coming-of-age story and muddles it with a main character who can't bring himself to overcome his societal masculinity. Factor in a weak and uninspired performance from lead actor Harris Dickinson, and viewers should abandon any hope of the film's lead finding redemption.

Frankie (Dickinson) is surrounded by his bros all the time. This is not your average group of adolescent males, however, but more like a homophobic gang of thugs. Frankie, on the other hand, doesn’t quite fit in. There’s just something that feels off about his interactions with his friends, and we soon discover the reason why. Frankie is sexually unclear, and he’s afraid to let anyone know, so he uses the website "Brooklyn Boys" to find older men with whom to explore his sexuality. At the same time, he also meets a girl during a fireworks celebration at the local pier.

This girl, Simone (Madeline Weinstein), ends up being Frankie’s girlfriend. Or so the movie would like audiences to think. The reality of it is that it’s all a pretense that makes Frankie’s life easier, helping him to mask his true sexual identity. But then the day arrives when he’s faced with being intimate with Simone, and Frankie’s charade falls apart. Aside from this aspect of the narrative, the film also follows Frankie and his friends as they try to find their next supply of drugs, all while he tries his best to ensure that they don’t get wind of his sexual indiscretions.

Playing a character who’s forced to hide his true self from his family and friends for fear of not being accepted or treated equally, while also being a sexually curious individual, is a daunting task for a relative newcomer. However, it’s not impossible. That said, Dickinson’s approach to the role is simply the wrong one for the part. Demonstrating neither any emotion nor any real personality, his character inexplicably mistreats and hurts those people he can actually be himself with, making it difficult for viewers to relate.

To a certain extent, it’s almost understandable, especially considering the situation Frankie finds himself in. Yet, we never get the sense that he feels any remorse whatsoever for his actions. This is glaringly true in the movie's third act, and it continually prevents viewers from feeling any empathy for him. Meanwhile, Weinstein tries to flesh out her character as best she can, but saddled with the arc of someone with an inability to exhibit emotion, it’s all but impossible for her performance to truly shine through.

Ultimately, Beach Rats suffers due to Dickinson’s lack of conviction in his role, and even though the movie is generally well-conceived, it also takes some questionable narrative turns along the way. A stronger performance from Dickinson and a sturdier third act from Hittman would have made for a better final product. As it stands, Beach Rats starts off promising, but the negatives gnaw away at its ability to fulfill that potential.

Beach Rats releases September 22nd, 2017 from Mongrel Media. The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 35 min.

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