Beach Rats (2017)

Hittman’s second feature is a naturalistic, and at times, sensual work about a young man seeking self-discovery through experimentation with drugs and sex with older men.  

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Eliza Hittman
2017 | USA | Drama | 98 mins | 1.85:1 | English
R21 (Netflix rating) for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language 

Cast: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge
Plot: 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.
Awards: Won Directing Award – Dramatic (Sundance); Nom. for Golden Leopard – Filmmakers of the Present (Locarno)
International Sales: Mongrel

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – LGBT, Identity, Coming-of-Age
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

Eliza Hittman’s sophomore feature is a step up from the modest if promising It Felt Like Love (2013).

With three films under her belt, including the latest critical darling, Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020), Hittman is slowly but surely developing a brand of cinema that she could call her own, one that foregrounds the struggles—be it identity, romance or human connection—of young men and women at the cusp of adulthood. 

She does so with her distinct naturalistic filmmaking style that is nuanced yet also streetwise, imbuing her characters with dignity even when they might have lost it. 

I first saw Beach Rats when it was in my programming shortlist for the Love & Pride Film Festival in Singapore.  It eventually didn’t make the cut, but it was not because the film didn’t earn its place by merit. 

“Two girls can make out and it’s hot, but when two guys make out, it’s gay.”

I like it quite a lot, with Harris Dickinson a quiet revelation as Frankie, a young man who tries to seek self-discovery through experimentation with drugs and sex with older men.  Madeline Weinstein (not related to Harvey!) is also good as a teenage girl who is infatuated with him. 

The film is sensual and moody, and there is a sense that Hittman is more interested in caressing Frankie than dissecting him, to point him toward a future more certain than what he is presently experiencing. 

A winner of the Directing Award at Sundance, Beach Rats is tender and loving, a contrast to the gang of homophobic friends that Frankie hangs out with as he struggles with his sexual identity.

Grade: B+




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