Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats is a woman’s attempt to look into the rituals of male sexuality.
Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats is a woman’s attempt to look into her fantasy of male homosexuality. Every queer adolescent knows there are rituals in growing up gay surrounded by machismo and homophobia. The closet, sex in secrecy, the shame of being caught, testing the waters to come out, coming out. Eliza Hittman wants to port those rituals to the boardwalk strutting teen boys of Brooklyn. Utilizing the homoeroticism posing underneath the shell of Beau Travail, Hittman’s visual sense is impeccably erotic but she fumbles when she dives into the secrecy of the homosexual ritual.
Harris Dickinson’s Frankie has a lean but sculpted muscular body with perky nipples and washboard abs, presenting the same ideal of masculinity that Claire Denis presented all those years ago. He’s a brooding Abercrombie + Fitch model with full lips and strong cheekbones just waiting to be exploited by the older men he so desires (even if he claims he doesn’t know what he wants). He takes near naked mirror selfies (WITH THE FLASH ON! WHAT THE HELL, FRANKIE?!) sagging his boxers to the base of his young teenage cock, making no bones about what he wants. On the other hand, he lowers his baseball cap to obscure his face, and when he cams on some weird hyperlocal hookup site that specializes in cam2cam modeling (as far as I can tell, these don’t really exist), he makes sure his body is lit but his identity is hidden.
When Frankie isn’t engaging in super secret gay hookups, he’s hanging out with his weed-addicted bros at the hookah bar, on the Coney Island boardwalk, or on the beach. He has to escape from home where the family has planted his dying cancer-ridden father in the middle of the living room for everybody to see, but his friends only want to hang out, do weed, pop pills, and fuck hot girls. Of course gay Frankie would rather fuck older men, but he still has to attempt dating and fucking the hot hardbody girl chasing after him harder than a steel mallet.
Hittman hasn’t really thought her characters through and frequently goes for the easy scene. Of course Frankie is fetishizing older men when his own father is dying before his eyes – a desperate attempt to grasp that father figure before it’s too late – that’s like every armchair cliche in the books. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Frankie’s testing the waters and not quite coming out to his friends happens in such a bizarre fashion that it can only be explained by being a personal fantasy of the writer/director. Frankie kindasortanotreally comes out by claiming that he can get weed by seducing older men online. Wait. Who comes out that way!? “Hey buddy, did you know you too can suck dick for weed.” GTFO. This goes obviously wrong in the way you’re probably already thinking…
Let me put it to you this way: this movie is not really made for gay men. This movie is made for straight women fetishizing gay men. This gay man is a misogynist, so women can easily blame some of their rejection on their boyfriends’ latent homosexual tendencies. This is a movie that fetishizes the male body, but never shows a single penis. It comes close, but it never quite manages it. Meanwhile, we get full screen vagina, as if gay men really wanted to go to a gay movie to see that (John Waters’ Pecker notwithstanding). Watching Beach Rats is like crawling into the minds of every bachelorette party that goes to a gay bar and nonconsensually surprise fingers your bejockstrapped boyfriend because fair’s fair or something. It’s kind of icky and gross…but, to be fair, gay men have been fetishizing women and making movies about them for long enough that we kind of deserve it.