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Beach Rats Is an Atmospheric, Heartbreaking Look at Life in the Closet 

'Beach Rats' Is an Atmospheric, Heartbreaking Look at Life in the Closet

'Beach Rats' Is an Atmospheric, Heartbreaking Look at Life in the Closet

In Beach Rats, 19-year-old Frankie is just trying to find himself. But the pressure to conform just won't let him breathe. 

Who among us hasn’t struggled along the journey of self-discovery? From early childhood to young adulthood, we all find ourselves on risky, meandering paths to better understand the person we see staring back at us in the mirror. And in Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats, that’s exactly what 19-year-old Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is trying to do.

Set in Brooklyn, Beach Rats follows Frankie one summer as he navigates the hardships of having a sick parent and struggles to fit in with his group of rough-and-tumble friends. With his dad ill with cancer and his worry-wort mom fighting to keep the family close, Frankie finds freedom in the streets and beaches of Coney Island where he dabbles in drugs and picks up pretty girls. Unbeknownst to his family and friends, however, Frankie spends his downtime looking for older gay men online and meeting them in person. It’s a practice he does in complete solitude with the lights down low and a sense of confusion and shame that he slowly overcomes over the course of the film. As the film moves forward, Frankie’s inability to resist his nature consumes him. No longer able to separate his online activities with his real-life adventures, he soon finds that the two collide in unexpected, and even dangerous, ways.

Overall, the film tells a sad story many in the LGBT community are familiar with: that of a teenager looking to find self-evident truths while his identity is still masked by the pressure to conform. In an effort to better fit in with his straight friends, Frankie manipulates his way into the arms of Simone (Madeline Weinstein), a girl who tries to seduce him at the start of the film. Their relationship is sweet but the audience is keenly aware of how disingenuous it is. We also get the distinct sense that Frankie knows it, too. It simply isn’t who he is and he can’t give Simone the relationship she wants or deserves; nor can he find any fulfillment in their young romance. So, he delves deeper into the world of online dating, meeting older men under the cover of night and receiving the kind of physical love he truly desires.

As with most cases of closeted sexuality and hidden truths, things comes to a head in a sequence of events that puts the risks of coming out into grave perspective for Frankie. The films ends on a rather sad note: Frankie, so often accompanied by friends throughout the film, stands alone and aware that coming out isn’t an option just yet.

Although the script has a few weak spots, Beach Rats manages to touch upon and drive home the idea of finding your tribe. Frankie hasn’t quite found his yet and there’s really no indication by the end of the film that he will. What is clear, though, is that his chosen group of friends don’t mesh with who he truly is and that he’ll likely have to seek companionship and understanding beyond his current environment.

One thing that seems to be missing from this film is a point of self-realization. At multiple points in the film, Frankie tells the men he meets that he doesn’t know what he wants or likes. Even after having sex with some of these men, he still doesn’t seem to be sure. He’s simply charging forward and experimenting without stopping to reflect on what these explorations mean for him. Instead, he turns to drugs to keep from confronting what he knows to be true about himself.

Weak script aside, though, the performances and cinematography are what really hold this film together. Harris Dickinson and Madeline Weinstein, in particular, are wonderfully raw in this film. These actors sell the story and you really do feel you’re in the moment with them. To add to those performances, Hélène Louvart’s cinematography transports you to every Brooklyn-based haunt that makes these characters so real and tangible. You’re there with them playing carnival games in Coney Island, riding the subway, at the beach, walking the streets. A true visual pleasure to watch that seems to take a page out of films like Moonlight and The Florida Project.

Beach Rats is now streaming on Hulu. Watch the trailer below.

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Tm Obscura

TM Obscura is a writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.

TM Obscura is a writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.