[I]n the shadow of Hollywood, which continues to douse itself in shame, independent cinema is steadily providing a progressive, emotive commentary on the world we live in. No film in 2017 did this more compellingly than Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats, a story about a disenfranchised and disengaged Brooklyn teenager, Frankie, whose routine of vaping, working out and smoking dope on the Coney Island boardwalks conceals an intense internal struggle. At the height of a New York summer, that struggle gives way to a sexual awakening and culminates in a crushing tragedy.
Frankie is played by British actor Harris Dickinson, who carefully portrays Frankie’s nocturnal shift from listless bro to gay cruiser, capturing a character that is trapped between adolescence and adulthood and confined by the narrow definition of masculinity and the one-dimensional sexuality that surrounds him. Growing up, the actor himself never felt so constrained; “I’ve never really been able to pinpoint my own masculinity and define it,” he says. “I’ve certainly seen others try and fit into a certain bracket of masculinity – people succumbing to the pressures of friends or father figures – but I always did the musicals at school and remained a fighter as well.”
Beach Rats is part of a wave of cinema that is gradually shifting perspectives on masculinity, disregarding traditional narratives and switching out bullshit and bravado for complex, conflicted figures. “There are all sorts of pressures enforced by film and television, by the concept of the male lead. It’s the basis of what masculinity and femininity are in society. But we’re moving away from the traditional expectations of a man, letting it be whatever it may be. That can only be a good thing.”