Eliza Hittman’s intimate character study, Beach Rats, is released in cinemas this week and might just have given us one of the performances of the year in Harris Dickinson’s powerful turn in the lead role. The film follows Frankie, an aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn during the summer, whose inner desires and feelings put an extreme emotional toll on his wellbeing. The environment he inhabits leads to a tragic tale of internal repression that culminates in devastating consequences in this powerful drama.
There is something emotionally raw and pure in Beach Rats’ portrayal of Frankie’s confused state of mind combined with the naturalistic way in which Hittman shoots the movie that resonates strongly with the viewer. Beach Rats, shot on film feels like a canvas insightfully painted with anguish and intimacy, then lovingly crafted for the screen to showcase its themes in all the complexity that they deserve.
The film wisely stays clear of lazy tropes and stereotypical situations that are sometimes used in order to generate sympathy for protagonist in these types of movies. This makes Frankie’s plight towards his own self-destructions that much more poignant and highlights the battle with inner demons that can be heightened just by being placed in certain environments. The film invites you to see events unfold as an observer rather than dictating how you should feel about the events that unfold.
Frankie is as much a puzzle to us as he is to himself. I much prefer this type of story told from a perspective of moral ambiguity with a humanist approach rather than a film exposing its agenda through something akin to preaching the lesson of the story. Beach Rats succeeds at this approach in a big way and is all the more impactful because of it.
A portrait of a central character in a drama like Beach Rats nearly always falls on the acting talents of the lead actor regardless of how well-filmed or the proficiency of the script. Harris Dickinson is simply a revelation in his film debut and although he hails from England the believability in which he plays a teenager from Brooklyn is a credit to his ability as an actor. The film is filled with very good performances both from trained and untrained actors but Harris often anchors it without even saying a word. His movement, how he conveys emotion on his face, his sense of visual communication with the characters and the audience is the most vital ingredient in implementing the director’s vision to its full potential.
Beach Rats is a powerful character study with an intriguing central character exploring his sexuality, played wonderfully by future star Harris Dickinson and is well worth seeing.