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Beach Rats
IMDB rating:
Eliza Hittman
Neal Huff as Joe
Erik Potempa as Michael
Gabriel Gans as Eddie
Harris Dickinson as Frankie
Nicole Flyus as Carla
Frank Hakaj as Nick
David Ivanov as Alexei
Christian Whelan as Rough Guy
Kate Hodge as Donna
Kris Eivers as Edgar
Storyline: An aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn struggles to escape his bleak home life and navigate questions of self-identity, as he balances his time between his delinquent friends, a potential new girlfriend, and older men he meets online.
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Unoriginal but watchable
There is nothing original about 'Beach Rats': its central character is a disaffected Brooklyn youth with few obvious prospects. He takes drugs with his dead-beat friends and hooks up with men he meets on the internet. His father is seriously ill and he has a younger sister he feels he has to protect. The same basic scenario has appeared - perhaps with one or two differences - in any number of American films.

But that does not mean this is not worth watching. In the leading role, Briton Harris Dickinson - disguising his natural accent well - gives a subtle performance, making Frankie sort-of likable but not hiding his flaws. Kate Hodge, playing his mother, convinces in her quiet concern for her son (and has one of the most emotional scenes in the film when she lays on the bed next to her dying husband). Madeline Weinstein, as Frankie's girlfriend, is feisty and attractive.

I would have preferred director Eliza Hittman to have used fewer grainy shots; they add nothing except pretension. The number of extreme close-ups she uses is also tiresome. But she has created a watchable film which is probably destined to become a homosexual cinema standard for the next several years - albeit largely due, I imagine, to Dickinson's nude scenes.
Pretty bad, sadly...
What we have here is anomie and lots of it...and then, more anomie. It start off well...it kind of channels a Larry Clark movie (or a movie Larry Clark might have wanted to make)....and just as quickly as you think you might be watching something special, nothing else happens. We don't even get to know the fate of the victim...in a film with so little plot, that really is a travesty. Pretty boresville, folks.
Seen at the Viennale 2017: A guy is really really bored. And we have to watch him on screen. He is gay and takes drugs. And he meets older men. So what? I cannot really believe, that boys like him exist. At least he is gay and is looking for sex. I assume that a young boy who is eager for sex has a vital force in himself, driving him to stupid ideas and encounters. But this boy does not have any urge in him. I guess, in reality he would not even search for sex with such low energy in him. I guess, the real gay boys on that beach are much more filled with energy, what cannot be imagined or shown in an art movie by a director without similar inner needs. Real life is not that lifeless.
Not a character to care for
Admitted, I did not applaud when the film was over at the Viennale screening two days ago. It is difficult for me to carry a torch for a character who seems so indifferent about himself, so hopeless and sometimes cruel. One can argue that it is a piece of life and people like him exist. They do, no question about that. But is it worth watching a guy 90+ minutes not getting his act together? This is up to everyone's own judgment.

The problem with the main character Frankie is, he is so boring! The film doesn't give you anything sympathetic or at least interesting about him. The fact that he is gay might have been interesting enough 20 years ago but not anymore. A lot of the discussion in reviews rotates around his search for sexual identity. I wonder if anyone noticed that his life would not be much easier or clearer if he would be straight like his buddies. They don't share his secret longings but they hang out together most of the time and do the same things. Beside his meeting elder men for sex, his drug consume and criminal acts, his indifference toward his family would be the same.

Throughout the film we are constantly looking at close-up and medium shots of naked male skin, the gang is shown either with slim undershirts or shirtless. If these would be scenes with women we would call this an exploitation movie.

But yes, his sexual uncertainty is of importance to the story when it comes to women. When a girl tries to date him he reluctantly acts up to what he thinks is expected of him, but soon fails on all fronts. The best scene of the film is when his girlfriend pulls the brake and tells him off. Asked why, she explains to him, he is a ruin, too much would be necessary to make him over and she would only want to see him again after he has been renovated.

Despite the fact that he is in almost every scene we learn very little about him. We don't learn anything about his buddies. We see glimpses of his family and I wondered how his mother took so long to realize that her son is in trouble.

There are interesting moments in the film but overall not enough development to care much.
Brooklyn teenage sad sack, confused over his sexual identity, hardly makes for compelling drama
Another highly touted film at the Sundance Festival, Beach Rats also garnered quite a bit of enthusiastic accolades from mainstream critics. But why? As usual, second feature director Eliza Hittman manages to proffer up a visually impressive palette evoking the heady atmosphere of lower middle-class Brooklyn and one particular young man confused about his sexual identity.

The protagonist is Frankie, played with subdued intensity by Harris Dickinson. He lives with his mother and teenage sister during a high time of family stress (the father is uncommunicative in a hospital bed, dying of cancer). Frankie's mother wants to know why he comes home so late and the sister resents his being constantly overprotective.

Frankie has a bunch of friends he hangs out with—the so-called "Beach Rats." I'm not sure why the film has such a title—since the aforementioned "rats" are all underdeveloped characters (stereotypes if you will), whom we learn little about during the film. What's more Frankie doesn't fit in with this group and they are only truly integrated into the plot during the film's climax.

Hittman makes the mistake of many neophyte writers when she assumes that a sad sack like Frankie is a) an interesting character and b) makes for good drama. She's wrong on both counts: simply put, compelling cinematic characters have an ego—in other words, they like themselves (think of the cool narcissism of the characters in The Sopranos).

Frankie, on the other hand, is an angry, unlikable character who spends most of his evenings trolling through gay chat rooms and experiencing unfulfilled sexual encounters with an assortment of (mostly older) gay men. Hittman doesn't want us to identify with her protagonist but rather "feel his angst," which she blames on his sad home life (the death of his father contributes to Frankie's instability one-third of the way through the narrative).

How do we know Hittman disapproves of Frankie's lifestyle?—the ending clues us in: Frankie's plan to smoke some marijuana with his friends goes awry after the "Beach Rats" rob and assault one of Frankie's pick-ups, implicating all of them as criminals.

The story would have been a lot more interesting if Frankie had a better opinion of himself and wasn't simply confused about his sexuality. With his one-note obsession about sex, Frankie doesn't have an internal arc where he grows at all. Ultimately Frankie's machinations are boring as there's little notable change in the character's development.

Earlier on, Frankie does struggle in his relationship with a young woman, Simone, played by the attractive Madeline Weinstein. Hittman does her best work in conveying the tension between the troubled couple. Nonetheless, Simone is another one dimensional character, simply designed to play off the confused Frankie.

In the end, Beach Rats is no "Nights of Cabiria," which is probably what the director intended. Instead, we're stuck with the usual melodramatic characters and stock situations. Angst in itself is hardly the answer for good, compelling drama.
Fractured and Aimless
There might be a good story in this film if only a few of the "plot lines" had been followed and expanded. There are so many threads which begin to weave into the story only to stop abruptly and not re-appear, leaving the film even more tattered and frayed.

There is simply no way to portray a person's inner life on screen; using close-ups of wistful expressions or having characters stare off into black water or fireworks does not a movie make. Despite seeing the lead in every frame, I came away not really feeling much for him or that I had learned that much about him. He doesn't seem stupid or completely clueless yet engages in meaningless activities with no self-awareness or that there might be a potential for self-growth.

I kept waiting and waiting for something to happen in this film - a hookup gone wrong, a gay- bashing, the reaction of his friends learning he's sleeping with men, his mother figuring out what was happening, something - anything. Instead, another round of fireworks, crashing waves and more staring out of subway windows. A complete disappointment.
Surprisingly accurate, almost tough to watch
First off, by tough to watch, I mean that in a good way. The almost painful, questioning and awkward teenage years of a man learning, or trying to learn his sexuality and family fit with turmoil going on all around him could not be captured better. His "not (his) friends" don't seem to make anything easier for him, and his love interest isn't much better.

The one big difference in this film which in my opinion doesn't make it bad, just makes it unique to what is to be expected from many coming of age/life films around is that a majority of the movie is portrayed not by dialog, but by character demeanor, and actions. It is not a feel good movie, and it is not a re-assuring style film. It is as it tries to be a movie showing the hardship of being a teenage male, unsure about his sexuality or life in fractured times.

I would highly recommend this film if that sounds like your cup of tea, but if you like the more light hearted, or 'scripted' style of teenage life this may not be for you.

**Fair warning this film does have a fair bit of nudity, and drug use among others**
Exploring sexuality... "What is your idea of romance?"
"Beach Rats" (2017 release; 95 min.) brings the story of Frankie, a Brooklyn teenager. As the movie opens, Frankie is on the Brooklyn Boys dating website, where he, tempted but uncertain, looks at the profiles of older guys. We get to know him better as he is hanging out with his buddies on a boardwalk. While at a nearby amusement park, he gets to know a beautiful girl, Simone, and they eventually hook up. In a parallel story, we also get to know Frankie's family: his younger sister, his worrying mom, and his ailing dad, bedridden with cancer. At this point we're not even 15 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the second movie from writer-director Eliza Hitmann, who a few years ago brought us the equally sexually charged "It Felt Like Love". Here, Hittman portrays the confusion and curiosity and social pressure facing a young guy who is dealing with a heavy family situation, while at the same time also trying to fine his place, or should I say himself. BEWARE: there are a number of pretty graphic scenes in the movie so if that bothers you, please do yourself a favor and check out another movie. I must admit that, as a straight guy myself, I was a bit uncomfortable at times with some of the scenes in this movie. That said, this is a great "little" move that shows a slice of life that feels very real. There are some outstanding performance, none more so that Harris Dickinson as the vulnerable/curious Frankie, and Madeline Weinstein as Simone. Surely we have not seen the last of them. When Frankie and Simone first meet on the boardwalk, they watch the fireworks, which Frankie terms boring and not romantic at all. Responds Simone: "What is your idea of romance?", and that goes to the core of the movie, as Hittman navigates the themes of sexuality, love, longing and belonging.

"Beach Rats" premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival to immediate critical acclaim. The movie finally opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended okay but not great (about 10 people). I can't say that surprised me, given the nature of the film. Yet with positive word-of-mouth this movie surely will get, maybe the movie will find a larger audience, if not in the theater, then later on VOD or DVD/Blu-ray.
Why was this reviewed well?
I drove 30 miles to see this art house film because I read two favorable reviews of it in national periodicals. For only the second time in recent memory I left before it ended. A few moments were closely observed and genuine, but the story development was mostly unbelievable, unpleasant-to-cringe-worthy, and I dreaded it becoming a gay Looking For Mr. Goodbar (Diane Keaton, 1977). Cruising Jersey Shore would have been a better title. I wouldn't want to spend one minute with any of the characters in this movie.
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