"Beach Rats" Much hyped but very disappointing. The theme of a young man trying to figure out his sexuality is fertile ground for any story, literary or cinematic, because it's an on-going real life struggle for many. This shallow, one-dimensional attempt though, while full of the vacillating that must accompany such a personal conundrum, doesn't shed any light on its main character's dilemma or suggest any way for him to find a solution - if there is one.
Let's get one thing out of the way: Harris Dickinson as Frankie, the lead character and the only one that's fleshed out to any degree whatsoever, at 20 is perfectly cast, easy on the eye to both gay and straight people and therefore his scenes, and he is in every one (the movie should've been more properly titled "Beach Rat"), ring true and create much of the reality with which this film attempts to cloak itself. It's certainly not his fault that that attempt falls flat partly because the rest of the cast are cardboard cutouts - I don't remember if we ever know the names of the other three of the group with which he hangs, let alone know anything about them (where they live, what if anything they do for a living, what their interests are other than drugs and women). They're just there! Consider that Frankie a neophyte to the gay world and is shown via a sequence of scenes to go from a) peering through his fingers at men in the chat room to b) refusing their offers to meet ("I don't do that") to c) accepting an offer and bottoming for a guy in the bushes without any seeming discomfort. As another example of how fatuous this movie really is, let's take the penultimate scene (what in a Shakespearean play would be the climax - not the end but the point at which a decision or action creates an inevitability for the rest of the plot). The guys want to buy some weed and are desperate it seems. How any group of 20-somethings in New York City with their lifestyle can't find weed is beyond me but we need that pivotal plot point. Out of the blue, as they are all sitting on a bench somewhere, Frankie suggests that they roll a gay guy and grab his weed. Take any group of very straight young men and make that suggestion and there would be, I suggest, an explosion of emotion. Here we get mild amusement, minor surprise, practical questions ("What do you have to do in return?" to which Frankie mimes oral sex) and then acceptance with further questions of how to go about it. Frankie of course has the answer and next we see the group in Frankie's room where he is on his computer trolling a gay chat room (which we've seen him do before) and engaging potential victims there. The other three are a little (I stress "little") shocked but quite blasé about the whole thing only once asking him how he knows about this site to which he replies, "Oh I just found it" or words to that respect. There was never any revulsion on the part of the group, no accusation that Frankie was gay. Nothing. I found that just plain silly and dumb as a portrayal of what would have really happened: the anger, disgust, accusations, shunning. That whole sequence is part of what's terribly wrong with this film.
There are any number of loose ends scattered throughout: characters and situations that are just left hanging. Example: In the group, the smallest fellow (don't know his name - see above) has an enigmatic role as there are several times when the camera focuses on his face looking at Frankie in a more than casual way. I found that suggesting that just maybe he had fond thoughts about his friend. This was never developed one way or the other. During the beach scene where they mug the other guy for his dope, this fellow (I'll call him #4) does not join in but disappears back into the bush. The other three emerge to the parking lot with the weed but #4 is nowhere around. Nobody misses him or asks where he is; we never have any inkling of his motivation for leaving or where he went. Nothing! Previously when the group goes swimming (the one and only time they have anything to do at the beach - (why the title?)), #4 does not go into the water but after the other three strip down to their underwear and dive in, in a shot from the back it looks like he's pumping himself up (or jerking off). What's that all about? We never know.
The only person in the film who shows any kind of depth and growth over its length is Simone, Frankie's erstwhile girlfriend who, having picked him up at a club to get laid, tries to make a boyfriend out of him even though she describes him as a "fixer-upper" (a term I'm glad she explains to him). However, this relationship never seems a strong part of the plot, balanced against his lifestyle and his dabbling in gayness.
The editing was jumpy; scenes didn't dissolve one into the other so much as one just abruptly ended and another began. Not to suggest that they weren't sequential but rather that they felt disjointed. After the mugging, the last shot in the parking lot focuses on the small bag of pot that they'd scored. Cut to Frankie in bed the next morning with his mother standing over him. There are more satisfying ways to get from one scene to the other rather than jumping like that.
Overall, the film was a great disappointment, partly I think because I could have been so much better.
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