Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2017 6:47 pm 
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A double life

In Eliza Hittman's Beach Rats, the main character, Frankie (the excellent young English actor Harris Dickinson) is largely a blank, to himself and us. But the film is precipitous and intense and Dickinson has a powerful physicality. To the gay men he approaches online, he is a delicious young hunk - tall, well-muscled, with emphatic pecs, a tapered torso, and a pretty, fresh, choirboy face. Frankie is in every scene, and Hélène Louvart's 16 mm. photography is up so close you'd see his pores, if his skin wasn't so smooth and perfect. This movie is skin-deep, but it's risky and vivid. It made me think of Patrice Chéreau's L'Homme blessé, Jean-Hugues Anglade's searing debut. Before the days of the Internet and a long, long way from Coney Island where Frankie hangs out with his posse, Anglade's Henri rushes out of his lower middle class parents' dreary apartment and over to the train station to find sex, and he never goes back. His newly discovered homosexuality explodes in his face and almost destroys him and it sweeps us away. There's something of that here, but none of the wonderful lurid, operatic poetry of Chéreau's iconic film. Hittman achieves a vérité sesuality and depicts a troubling, druggy confusion. Frankie is as ready to take risks as Henri. But he isn't committing himself the same way, and this movie doesn't have the mythic power of L'Homme blessé.

For one thing, there is Frankie's mother, Donna (Kate Hodge), who reigns at home, though she does not know what he's up to. His father is in hospice care dying of cancer (an event dutifully sketched in) - providing opioids for Frankie, who is doing a lot of drugs with his straight buddies. The members of this posse are not differentiated except visually but they are his constant companions, to whom he plays straight. He lives the beginnings of a double life. (How long has this been going on? We don't know, and one of the weaknesses of this in-the-moment approach is he has no background, no psyche, really.) Frankie stages a whole dating game with a girl (Nicole Flyus) to put up a front for them and for home and perhaps for himself. Chéreau's Henri never has these possibilities. Like Frankie, this movie has everything to offer and nothing to give; it's drenched in atmosphere and short on story. It is, however, of this moment, particularly as to the online video sex connections. In the short time covered in the movie, Frankie begins, and makes sex connections. All of a sudden he is moving fast and entering danger and risk.

Season 3 of the global hit Norwegian teen TV series "SKAM," focuses on Isak (Tarjei Sandvik Moe), a cute, popular 17-year-old Oslo high school student who's discovering, or finally admitting, that he's gay; he too goes online to gay sites, but doesn't connect to anybody. He has something better, an upperclassman who's interested in him. When he and Even have "a thing," he reluctantly, piecemeal, comes out to his posse of three straight guys. (They're not macho and generic, like Frankie's pals. One is black, and one is a virgin; the previous season was all about the third.) They're okay with it, and even give him tips on how to make sure Even treats him fairly. "SKAM" director Julie Andem has fashioned an iconic gay coming of age story with all the nuance and humor lacking here, and a positive outcome. The sad thing is that Frankie lies to everybody, including his buddies, making up a drug story to explain connecting with gay guys. How long would they believe that? We don't know, because Beach Rats stops up in the air, with Frankie staring into the sky, filled with fireworks. This is an easy, weak ending that betrays the limitations of Hittman's bold and able film. It's almost as if Beach Rats ends where L'Homme blessé begins. Beach Rats is compelling and intense, and yet is seems almost more the idea for a movie than a movie.

Beach Rats, 95 mins., debuted at Sundance, and is included in New Directors/New Films (the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art series) in which it's the Centerpiece Film A Neon release.
Fri., Mar. 17 6:45 Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center
Sat. Mar. 18 6:30 Titus Theater, MoMA.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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