Writer-director Eliza Hittman’s “Beach Rats,” which won her the Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, starts off as an interesting character study of a young Brooklyn tough grappling with his sexuality — but the movie turns out to be going nowhere slowly.
Frankie (Harris Dickinson) spends his days hanging out with his pals, filling the dull hot hours of a Brooklyn summer. He listlessly pursues Simone (Madeline Weinstein), who kisses him under the Fourth of July fireworks.
Most nights, Frankie sits in his room in his parents’ basement, surfing a gay men’s chat website. He sometimes will hook up with the older men he meets there, though he won’t admit, even to himself, that he’s gay.
Frankie’s family situation is tough, with his father dying of cancer and his mother (Kate Hodge) worried about what Frankie is up to at night. Even when she sees him with Simone, Mom worries that his buddies’ influence is bad for him.
Hittman (whose “It Felt Like Love” debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival) neatly captures the sweaty summer rhythms of Brooklyn and the boredom of the disaffected youth who populate its sidewalks, boardwalks and vape bars.
She also pours much care into creating the character of Frankie, who tries to deal with his sexual confusion by compartmentalizing his life. She draws a soulful performance from Dickinson, who with few lines of dialogue gives a compelling portrait of a young man struggling with his fears and desires.
Alas, the movie’s narrative moves sluggishly and inevitably toward a horrific outcome that’s telegraphed early. “Beach Rats,” beautiful as it is, moves like a boulder on a hillside, but without the shattering impact.
* * 1/2<br>’Beach Rats’<br>A sumptuously shot character study of a teen struggling with his sexual identity, with a narrative that goes nowhere.<br>Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.<br>When • Opens Friday, Sept. 15.<br>Rating • R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language.<br>Running time • 95 minutes.