Beach Rats

 

starstarstarhalf

 


This portrait of teen life in South Brooklyn introduces us to some remarkable young talents.

 
Beach Rats

 

I am not one of those critics who abhors the star rating system that has become virtually ubiquitous (after all   I first came to love cinema in the days of the weekly magazine Picturegoer and that used to star the films reviewed). But I do have to admit that it becomes problematic with a film such as Beach Rats. For an hour or so it comes across as one of the best films of the year but thereafter it loses its way, a fact that makes the sense of disappointment especially acute and that in turn leads to the unremarkable rating above for what, in spite of its collapse, is an extraordinary film.

 

In essence this is a film about males - and in particular about a Brooklyn boy named Frankie (Harris Dickinson) who, aged nineteen, is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality (he has a girl-friend - Simone played by Madeline Weinstein - but goes online to meet and to have sex with older men). Such material in a film is hardly remarkable these days and least of all in a Peccadillo release, but there is a factor that makes this film surprising: Beach Rats (not the best title for a sensitively observed film) was written and directed by a woman, Eliza Hittman. Apparently she made her name with a first feature film about female adolescence which was not released here - 2013's It Felt Like Love - and thus Beach Rats is a deliberate move away from making another female-centred piece while yet sticking to the age group that fascinates her.

 

A relative newcomer from England, Harris Dickinson is ideally cast as the central character, but with the film being created by a woman it is entirely apt that Weinstein in the role of Simone is equally striking and that a supporting figure - Frankie's widowed mother portrayed by Kate Hodge - seems fully realised. For at least two thirds of the time the observation of Frankie's troubled world seems wholly authentic: it brings to mind the sense of reality found in the more outlandish world of Sean Baker's Tangerine (2015), the credibility of the more mainstream Adventureland (2009) and the underlying truth of the recent comedy The Edge of Seventeen (2016). 

 

But, just when the film seems on course to triumph, it starts to feel a bit drawn out and then almost at once opts for plot developments that no longer quite ring true, partly perhaps because Frankie's motivation in these later stages needs to be more clearly defined. Whatever the cause, what had felt so real (and with a frankness to its sex scenes that was part of that without becoming exploitative) ends up as a story that we don't quite believe in. Consequently the emotion called for by the ending is not felt. But, if the fault lies in the writing, as a director Eliza Hittman has huge potential: anyone interested in blazing new talent should seek out Beach Rats regardless of its shortcomings - and the talent to which I refer is not only Hittman's but also that of her two leading players.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge, Neal Huff, Nicole Flyus, Frank Hakaj, David Ivanov, Anton Selyaninov, Harrison Sheehan, Douglas Everett Davis, Gabriel Gans, Erik Potempa, Kris Elvers, J. Stephen Brantley.

 

Dir Eliza Hittman, Pro Drew Houpt, Brad Becker-Parton, Paul Mezey and Andrew Goldman, Screenplay Eliza Hittman, Ph Hélène Louvart, Pro Des Grace Yun, Ed Scott Cummings and Joe Murphy, Music Nicholas Leone, Costumes Olga Mill.

 

Cinereach/Animal Kingdom/Secret Engine-Peccadillo Pictures.
98 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 24 November 2017. Cert. 15.