Beach Rats is more than Moonlight set in Brooklyn

BEACH RATS (Eliza Hittman). 98 minutes. Opens Friday (September 22). See listing. Rating: NNNN

A few years ago, Eliza Hittman’s It Felt Like Love looked at the confused sexual awakening of a teenage girl. In her new film Beach Rats, the writer/director continues to investigate the tangles of desire and impulse that define teenage sexuality – but in a very different manner.

Set over a suffocating Brooklyn summer, Beach Rats takes an evocative, charged look at a closeted 19-year-old adrift in his own life. 

Frankie (Harris Dickinson) spends his afternoons vaping with his thug friends and his evenings hanging out at Coney Island. It’s either that or stay at home and watch his father being eaten alive by cancer. And when no one’s looking he goes online and arranges hookups with older men. 

Working with cinematographer Hélène Louvart – who shot Agnès Varda’s The Beaches Of Agnès and Wim Wenders’s Pina, among others – Hittman renders Frankie’s world with suffocating clarity. We can almost sense the heat and pressure bearing down on him at every turn.

And Dickinson, an English stage actor making his feature debut, is utterly riveting as a young man who knows who he is and what he wants, and can’t let himself have it. (He’s supported very nicely by Madeline Weinstein and Kate Hodge, who are terrific the in the smallish roles of Frankie’s would-be girlfriend and his isolated mother.)

Comparisons to Moonlight are superficial but not entirely invalid Beach Rats is its own thing, telling a story that happens to have similar elements but stands apart. It’s worth your time.

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