British actor Harris Dickinson gives a smashing breakthrough performance in Beach Rats. He plays Frankie, a Brooklyn teen having a sexual-identity crisis. He’s attracted to men, but the bros he hangs with are, well, the opposite of enlightened. Frankie’s confusion escalates when he meets Simone (the excellent Madeline Weinstein), a girl who might make his life a whole lot easier. But Internet chat rooms give Frankie the chance to score hookups with older men. The sex is secret, but Frankie’s hunger for it is palpable.
Writer-director Eliza Hittman, a Brooklynite herself, dealt with the coming of age of a 14-year-old girl in her superb 2014 debut film, It Felt Like Love. And her insights, from the perspective of a young male, resonate with powerful impact and internal confusion. In Beach Rats, she crafts a film of erotic heat and piercing delicacy. Even when the plot gets contrived, the emotions stay true. At 19, Frankie can’t understand his own emotions, much less articulate them to himself or his family. His father (Neal Huff) is dying of cancer. And his mother (Kate Hodge) and younger sister (Nicole Flyus) are hardly sexual confidantes. What we have here is a film, gorgeously shot by French cinematographer Hélène Louvart, about a character in a limbo of his own making. And Dickinson digs so deep into the tension between repression and coming out that you’re with him every step of the way. Beach Rats is one from the conflicted heart.