Summer for Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is a haze of lazy, sun-dazed delinquency: Cruising the beach with his crew, crushing up and snorting the painkillers he steals from his dad’s monthly supply, playing bumper cars and lifting wallets at the Friday-night fireworks in Coney Island. But at night sometimes when he’s alone late in his basement bedroom, he does a different kind of cruising: clicking impassively through the sexual roulette of anonymous male bodies on a website called Brooklyn Boys. It’s not clear at first how long he’s been doing this, or how far he’s taken it into the real world. “I don’t know what I like,” he says tonelessly to an older man unbuttoning his jeans onscreen, as if he couldn’t care less what happens next.
But he does know what he likes, and it’s not sex with Simone (Madeline Weinstein), the pretty, feline-eyed girl who picks him out of the fireworks lineup one night, determined to seduce him. As his father’s terminal cancer worsens and Frankie falls further into his double life — lying to his concerned mother and little sister, his increasingly skeptical friends, and Simone — it’s clear that the center won’t hold. But director Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love) isn’t aiming for big epiphanies or revelations; with the help of gifted French cinematographer Hélène Louvarte, she lets Frankie’s bifurcated world unfurl in a series of intimate, unhurried scenes.
British newcomer Dickinson, whose South Brooklyn accent is flawless, doesn’t have much dialogue, but he has a Gosling-esque magnetism that feels a lot like movie stardom. (And in fact, he’s already been cast as J. Paul Getty III in Danny Boyle’s upcoming FX anthology series Trust.) If his Frankie sometimes comes off as a little bit of a blank, that registers less like a lapse in screenwriting than the sad truth of who he is—or more honestly, what he’s terrified to be. Between Moonlight and the upcoming Call Me By Your Name, some are calling this the golden age of gay coming-of-age cinema; Beach Rats’ slow pacing and dreamy verité style doesn’t feel made for quite that level of mainstream appeal. But still it gets under the skin, and stays there. B+