BEACH RATS: Terrific Film- Just Don’t Call It “Moonwhite”
Beach Rats may have a lot of superficial similarities with Moonlight, but director Eliza Hittman's film is a triumph in its own right.
As I give my review for Beach Rats, I’ll just get one thing out of the way. I’m sure people will write this off as a “white Moonlight” or call it “Moonwhite” or whatnot. There are similarities between the two because they are both about male youths coming to terms with their sexuality and they depict the theme of masculinity. But I feel that to write Beach Rats off as a Moonlight clone would be doing it a huge disservice. Even though Moonlight has accomplished a historic and much deserved Best Picture win, I honestly feel that comparisons should not be made to every LGBTQ+ film that comes after it.
Again, Beach Rats may be about a gay male unsure of his sexuality. But writer/director Eliza Hittman presents it in a far different manner in terms of aesthetic and storytelling, and I think instead of comparing it to another tremendous coming of age story, audiences should appreciate how it demonstrates the LGBTQ+ experience in its own unique way.
Beach Rats: How The Story Goes From Light To Dark
Beach Rats depicts a Brooklyn teenager named Frankie (newcomer Harris Dickinson) who spends his summer days getting high and hanging at the beach with his friends. He also struggles with life at home where his father lies on his deathbed and he has a tense relationship with his mother (Kate Hodge). But he spends his summer nights chatting and flirting with older men online.
As he continues his webcamming, his chatting with different men turns into physical intimacy, causing trouble to his relationship with a young woman named Simone (Madeline Weinstein) and his friends who he fears may not approve of who he is.
Both day and night are proven to be integral to the storyline thanks to the exemplary and lyrical cinematography by Helene Louvart. During the scenes that take place at nighttime where Frankie is engaging in sexual activity with other men or chatting with them online, Frankie is constantly encased in shadow which demonstrates him being closeted. Because the camera tends to zoom in on Frankie’s face, Louvart makes it feel as if he’s trapped in a small closet.
Ironically, in the scenes that take place during the day, the camera is always zoomed out and Frankie has both literal and figurative open space. But because he lives out a more heteronormative lifestyle, he is betraying his inner self. His confused self trapped in the “dark closet” that he enters at night. But there is one lengthy scene where Frankie and a man he meets online have sex in a motel room and Louvart films it with tints of red to both capture the physical intimacy of that moment and foreshadow the fiery conflict that’ll follow between Frankie and everyone around him since Frankie is delving further into his sexual desires.
A Star Is Quietly Born
Eliza Hittman not only allows Helene Louvart to tell the film’s story through the lens, since her screenplay carries few words, but Hittman lets the expressive face of its main star tell the story as well. Harris Dickinson is an amazing find, etching the feelings of denial, confusion, happiness, and feelings too complex to describe with the sole use of his eyes.
Plus, he immerses himself into his portrayal of a Brooklyn man with dudebro swagger so well that you wouldn’t even know that he is British. His portrait of a man of masculine physique mixed with quiet anguish offers shades of a younger Marlon Brando and I look forward to what this talent does in the future.
The other cast members, including Madeline Weinstein and Kate Hodge, are quite good too even if they aren’t given as much to work with. But one actor who only appears in two scenes that really stood out to me was Douglas Everett Davis who plays Harry, the man that Frankie has sex in a motel with. Understandably, not many reviews are mentioning him because he isn’t in the movie much. But I felt that he added support to Frankie’s conflict by offering tenderness, having him coming to terms with his sexuality by telling him that a person can tell they are gay if their point finger is longer than their ring finger.
It may be a small moment but it is still one of the few times where someone is somewhat supportive of Frankie’s homosexuality. In hindsight, it is also very sad because it shows that a complete stranger, who Frankie mainly turned to for sex, turns out to encourage him to come to terms with his sexuality more than his own relatives and his close friends.
Can There Be A Happy End?
By the time the film ends, I was left wondering, “Will Frankie find his happy ending?” Will he ever sparkle like the fireworks that he witnesses in the film’s first and last sequence? We never know but I am hopeful for him. In spite of the ignorance shown by his friends and his suspicious mother, will he find somebody that will support who he is inside and will he be able to escape the dark closet he is trapped in?
It’s hard to know but the fact that Eliza Hittman allows us to potentially answer all those questions is a demonstration of how exciting film watching can be. Being able to piece our own puzzle by the time the credits roll allows us to continue our interest in the film we saw.
Thanks to its lyrical cinematography, a star-is-born performance by Harris Dickinson, and its heartbreaking ambiguity that left me devastated by the time the credits rolled, Beach Rats is an engrossing drama that is poetic even if there are little words in the poem.
What is your favorite coming-of-age LGBTQ film? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
Beach Rats is currently released in US theaters and will come out in the UK on November 3rd.
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