Art house films in which the camera caresses young male bodies are usually directed by men, like Gus Van Sant or Larry Clark, so Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats feels like an outlier. If anything, her follow-up to 2013’s It Felt Like Love is as much about a 19-year-old exploring his sexuality as it’s a chance for Pina cinematographer Hélène Louvart to linger on the panes of his face, the curvature of his lips, the contours of his torso.
At home, Frankie (Harris Dickinson) hooks up with men he meets through a gay webcam forum, but with his friends—Brooklyn bros in tank tops and backward hats—he hangs out on the boardwalk, smoking blunts and digging the heteronormative scene.
When a pretty brunette (Madeline Weinstein) flirts with him one night, he flirts back, but the minute his friends abandon him, he looks frightened. When their first sexual encounter is a bust, he convinces her to give him another chance. His father is dying, and he’s eager for the kind of human connection his friends are unable to provide, and so he splits his life down the middle—gay in private and straight in public, a bifurcation bound to fail.
Though the trailer portends vapid soft core, Hitmann has a sure and sensitive hand as a director; better yet, Dickinson registers as more than just a photogenic body. Though he’s certainly that, too.