Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is a confused teenager living in Brooklyn with his mother and younger sister, while his father is ailing fast, looked after at home but suffering from terminal cancer. This may be affecting him more than he would care to admit, as it's not cool to share your feelings with your friends in this community, not between males anyway, and he has a bigger secret than that: he is trying to cope with his attraction to other men. To that end he goes to online dating sites and talks to older men, not taking it too far as he is experimenting, but enough to know he would prefer the company of males when it comes to sex. However, one girl at the beach has caught his eye...
So is Frankie gay or not? After watching this, you would have to draw the conclusion that if you are male and enjoy looking at naked middle-aged men over webcams, then you have a certain leaning in that direction, and if you, as he does, start meeting up with these men to have sex with them, then that's more or less a clincher. Interestingly, it's not daddy issues that drive our hero into the arms of these fellows, it’s because as they are more advanced in years, there's no chance his friends will be familiar with them, so he is freer to explore his sexuality with them and not worry about getting recognised once their night of passion - or five minutes of passion - has drawn to a close.
However, there is Simone, that girl, played by Madeline Weinstein who was somewhat unfortunate to be setting out her movie acting career in 2017 with that surname, though no, she was no relation and there was no funny business going on. She proved an interesting presence, attractive enough to have the audience wonder well, if she doesn't snare Frankie then no woman will, therefore when he sort of rejects her without realising that's what he is doing - she rejects him more firmly, but has been guided into it by his actions - it should have made up his mind then and there what his preferences were, though in effect this simply renders him even more confused than he was in the first place.
Director Eliza Hittman was inspired to make this after observing actual "beach rats", that is the teens and younger folk who hang out around the shore in the Brooklyn area, their unwritten social rules and the likelihood of them drifting into drugs and crime. One of those rules was that being homosexual was a no-no among the boys, which ultimately leads to a shock wake up call for Frankie at the film's denouement, one of those open endings that leaves all the possibilities available but decides against resolving them for the protagonist one way or another. Actually, on this evidence Hittman was very keen to observe those young men very closely indeed, judging by the amount of times her camera lingered on toned, masculine bodies, the fact they were at the beach all the excuse she needed to get the cast's kit off.
Not to mention the scenes where Frankie winds up in hotel rooms with those close encounters, or worse, in a bush somewhere for a squalid blow job (which he gives but does not receive). You can tell this lifestyle could go horribly wrong for him at any moment, assuming it has not already, especially given his friends are not exactly the most open-minded of people and could be ganging up on him if he were brave enough to admit to them where his thoughts were leading him. For that reason Beach Rats had a claustrophobic air, emotionally at least, where you can understand finding someone to be honest with would do Frankie the world of good, but that's not going to happen with those he chooses to pal around with currently. It's a feeling many must go through, not only sexually either, and while he could be unsympathetic (getting high on his father's medication, for instance), he was not a bad kid, he simply needed more guidance than anyone he knows can offer him. For that: a frustrating watch, but this was the intention. Music by Nicholas Leone.
[Peccadillo Pictures' DVD has a bunch of featurettes and the trailer as extras.]