Came out of nowhere, so that’s how I know about this movie. Just watched the trailer and it looks like it’s about this young man, a teenager, has started a relationship with a nice girl, but might be struggling with a homosexual awakening. Not that homosexuals don’t deserve to be represented well in film, but a generic plot like this doesn’t seem like a great addition to its limited film collection.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Harris Dickinson, known for unknown projects. In support, we have Madeline Weinstein (1 episode of TV shows BLUE BLOODS [2010 – ongoing] and ELEMENTARY [2012 – ongoing]), Kate Hodge (LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III , and 1 episode of TV shows FRINGE [2008 – 2013] and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS [1995 – 2001]), and Neal Huff (SPLIT , SPOTLIGHT , and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL ).
Now for the crew. Directing and penning the screenplay is Eliza Hittman, known for unknown projects and short films. Composing the score is Nicholas Leone, making his feature film debut. Congrats, sir. Finally, the cinematographer is Hélène Louvart, known for a bunch of foreign projects.
Overall, not overly excited, but an uninteresting trailer doesn’t always mean a bad movie, so let’s see what this has got in store for me.
This is my honest opinion of: BEACH RATS
The story follows Frankie (Harris Dickinson), a young man living Brooklyn who leads a double life of sorts. In his family life, his father is dying of cancer and his mom and sister are doing what they can to get by. With his friends, they hang out at the beach, smoke weed, and have fun any way they want. Frankie even meets a girl named Simone (Madeline Winstein) and the two strike up a relationship. But that becomes a struggle for him as he explores his homosexual side by looking up older men online, keeping this side of him a secret from everyone he knows.
This movie knows exactly what it is and it goes full force into it. For one thing, there is surprisingly very little female nudity, if any at all. This movie is chock full of male nudity though. Hell, the opening scene is Frankie on the internet looking up older gay men in chatrooms. You get a good eye-full of a dude’s penis.
Before I get into the movie itself, I wanted to quickly mention the difference in experiences people will have when watching this movie. Take me for example, I knew what this movie had in store for me the moment the movie opened. It’s the journey of a young man’s homosexual awakening and his struggles in figuring out if he really is gay or not. This is a movie you’re supposed to take seriously. So that’s what I did; I took the movie seriously. However, I don’t speak for the rest of the audience I was sitting with. There’s a scene where Frankie is browsing the chatrooms and one of the rooms he passes by is a man dancing with his penis flopping around. This has a couple people in my auditorium laughing. On the one hand, I get it. For those who don’t browse those sites, I can see how easy it could be to make fun of the visual. However, I do believe that the whole point of watching this is missed by these audience members. Frankie is still a young man who hasn’t quite embraced his homosexuality. This room he’s in is his only privacy in exploring this side of him. It’s a confusing time for him and despite being close to his mother and sister, it’s still not enough for him to come out of that proverbial closet. I guess it was easier for me to accept because I understood the function of these scenes. Maybe this isn’t actually how all gay men explore their sexuality, but I get it in the context of the character.
One of the biggest things that I could appreciate about this film was its confidence in itself. It really wanted to showcase the sexual side of male homosexuality, so there is sex in this movie. I don’t know if this was deliberate or by accident, but I noticed that the sex between Frankie and Simone is pretty awkward and hard to watch, almost like they’re miserable for him. Like the first time he’s about to have sex with Simone, he acts like an asshole to her. The second time, he needs to go to the bathroom to get himself hard so he can please her. The final time is a quickie on a yacht that lasts about five seconds before he totally bails on in the middle of the act. But all the sexual encounters Frankie has with the men he meets are handled with more care. They’re never repetitive. From kissing, to penetration, to oral, it’s not miserable for him. It’s just another experience for him in discovering what he likes to do.
Now, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but… did anyone’s name actually get mentioned in the movie? Like, I don’t recall Frankie’s name ever said by anyone. Did I just miss it? The only reason I know the main character’s name is Frankie is because I looked it up on IMDb. But I don’t recall anyone’s name said in this movie other than Simone. On second though, don’t correct me if I’m wrong. I like the thought that no names were used because my interpretation of it will be that Frankie is something of a representation of someone still in that proverbial closet. He’s something of a blank slate so someone who is in a similar situation as him can picture themselves in his situation more easily.
By the way, there’s this really funny scene after Frankie has sex with a guy. They’re laying in bed and the guy says, “You know how you can tell if you’re gay? If you’re straight, your ring finger is longer than your pointer finger. If you’re gay, your pointer finger is longer.” Full disclosure, I looked at my fingers. Multiple times.
So it looks like this I think this movie has some artistic merit, right? I must think it’s pretty great, you might think. Well… no, actually. I mean, I sure don’t hate the movie, I think it’s pretty good, but there’s still some elements about the flick that I didn’t like too much. For one thing, despite Frankie possibly deliberately being written as a blank slate, he’s still given some character… and at first, he’s not always likable. He and his friends steal money so they can go the local fair, he does hard drugs, kind of mean toward his sister, and definitely treats Simone poorly in their first attempt at having sex. There wasn’t a whole lot to like at first. But his character simmers down as the story progresses and the unlikable activities are pretty minimal… at least up until Frankie pawns his mother’s earrings for money that’s never truly resolved. That was pretty douchie. And his friends assault a gay guy for his weed, which was a horribly shot assault scene and certainly ends the movie on a lame note. With a weak start and conclusion, all I can come back to is… MOONLIGHT (2016) did it better. More poetic, more ambiguous, an all around better film that succeeded in all aspects that this movie tried to strive for.
But the truth is, we need more movies like this. We need more movies that shed light on a current hot-button topic as homosexuality, transexuality, all of that. The more indie films that take the risk of making these kinds of movies, maybe more high-profile studios will give them a chance in the future, give them great marketing, and giving more opportunities for actors that fit these descriptions without judgment and prejudices. Granted, we’ve got a long way to go before Hollywood has that kind of variety, but we’ll never get there if more filmmakers don’t put forth the effort to make this stand. They’ve sure come a fair distance than in the past, to be fair. I imagine if someone were to try to make a movie that tries to bring black-face back, that movie would be scrapped faster than the speed of light. While white-washing and misogyny is still a thing, there’s still forces at work fighting to make change. So long as Hollywood studios continue to give films like this a chance, and filmmakers give those studios a reason to give them a chance by making quality stories like this, then we’re certainly on the right path.
But enough with the philosophy babble. The film is good. A slower paced story, but still a fascinating journey in one young man’s shoes as he figures himself out. I do recommend this, but understand that you’re in for a viewing not often shown on the big screen. There is graphic nudity and sex and I already know this won’t be for everyone. But it’s worth it if you’re looking to challenge yourself.
My honest rating for BEACH RATS: 4/5