Unappealing title aside, writer/director Eliza Hittman’s “Beach Rats” (Neon) is one of the most captivating and sensitive portraits of sexual confusion you are likely to see anytime soon. And that’s saying a lot in the age of “Moonlight”.
Aimless teen Frankie (the scorching British actor Harris Dickinson) has various ways he likes to waste time in the summer, including getting wasted on pilfered prescription meds and pot with his equally adrift posse Nick (Frank Hakaj), Nick (David Ivanov) and Jesse (Anton Selyaninov). Frankie also likes taking seductive shirtless selfies and cruising online gay sex sites such as Brooklyn Boys.
Not surprisingly, in terms of sexual attraction, Frankie “doesn’t know” what he “likes”. At least that’s what he tells the men he encounters while he’s cruising the web. Some he meets for hookups in parks, cars and motel rooms. Frankie’s also the kind of conscientious sexual partner who manscapes and is aware of personal hygiene.
Frankie doesn’t think of himself as gay but he has sex with men. As he tells one trick who’s closer to his age than the others, he likes older men because that decreases the chances of them knowing anyone he knows.
As if to prove he’s one of the guys, Frankie agrees to go out with the aggressive Simone (Madeline Weinstein), whom he meets on the Coney Island Boardwalk. Their first sexual encounter falls flat, which Frankie blames on the combination of drugs coursing through his system. But the truth is, he has no problem getting aroused with guys.
Eventually he finds a way to make things works with Simone in order to maintain his cover. However, that doesn’t stop him from cruising the gay sex sites. When an online hookup agrees to provide weed, Frankie unwisely includes his buddies in the encounter, and as you can imagine, things go south quickly.
There’s more to Frankie than meets the eye. He’s well-spoken and thoughtful. He tries to be a good son to mother Donna (Kate Hodge) and his father dying of cancer in a hospital bed in the living room, as well as a concerned older brother to sister Carla (Nicole Flyus).
Hittman’s camera loves Frankie’s body and rightfully so. Not your run-of-the-mill coming out story by any stretch of the imagination, “Beach Rats” provides no easy answers or resolution. Still, it’s a welcome addition to growing canon of queer cinema. Rating: B+