Beach Rats Dir: Eliza Hittman

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It’s a case of desire and denial in this atmospheric coming-of-age tale of a teen struggling with his sexuality in Brooklyn.

Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is an aimless teenager living in the outskirts of Brooklyn, seeking escape from suffocating family life via his troublesome mates, a potential new girlfriend and the older men he meets online.

Even as a 37-year-old this struggle of self-identity spoke to me. Writer / director Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love) has made an assured second feature that has won over new fans and awards like the drama Best Director gong at Sundance.

A Brooklyn native herself her coming-of-age tale rings true, with terribly authentic tearaway teens – in dabbling casual drugs, thievery and sex – and online chat rooms were a ‘hello’ is usually followed by a ‘so you wanna meet up?’.

Brooding British newcomer Harris Dickinson doesn’t say much but there’s a lot of repressed sexuality simmering under his buff bod. He’s a captivating watch, handling the nuances of tender gay sex scenes with macho swaggering around his homophobic homies.

A great character study of a teen caught in a confusing downward spiral, and the pressures anyone faces from family and friends to lead a ‘normal’ life. He puts on a good front, but as his dad slips away to cancer and his mother pushes for answers – and encouraging the blossoming female romance – he loses himself deeper into drugs and casual gay sex.

There’s no easy answers here either, with Hittman not out to preach but present what many teens are struggling with in the age of the perfect selfie.

What a gorgeous watch too, with French cinematographer Helene Louvart (Pina, The Wonders) getting up close and personal on 16mm. You can feel the humid heat outside as the fireworks fly literally and figuratively on the boardwalk, and inside as Frankie intimately meets his older men in beautifully shot sex scenes.

In a wonderful year for LGBTQ movies, at NZIFF with Call Me By Your Name, Beats Per Minute, 100 Men and of course the Oscar-winning Moonlight, it’s great to hear a bold new voice deliver such an accessible and realistic account of a teen’s struggle.

Clayton Barnett

NZIFF link: https://www.nziff.co.nz/2017/wellington/beach-rats/