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‘Beach Rats’ review: Poignant Coney Island coming-of-age story

"Beach Rats" from director Eliza Hittman is an impressionistic coming-of-age story about a young man named Frankie (Harris Dickinson) grappling with his sexuality in South Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Neon

Directed by Eliza Hittman

Starring HarrisDickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge

Rated R

Playing at Film Society Lincoln Center, Landmark Sunshine

Over the course of two movies, filmmaker Eliza Hittman has established herself as an essential portrayer of lonesome, confused youths in South Brooklyn.

“It Felt Like Love,” her 2014 debut, and the new film “Beach Rats” play best as companion coming-of-age pieces in which the turmoil of burgeoning sexuality is paralleled with the ethereal nature of this corner of the city, a world unto itself in the shadows of Coney Island’s sparkling amusements.

The new picture follows Frankie (Harris Dickinson), a young man with a dying father and a distant mother, who spends his summer days lounging on the beach and boardwalk and his nights hesitantly exploring the world of online sexual encounters with other men.

His universe is defined by simultaneous and conflicting notions: a profound sense of ennui in terms of his day-to-day routine and an existential struggle of great dimensions as he seeks to comprehend his particular truth.

Hittman presents this journey in muted tones, achieving a measure of gravitas in the unpacking of these self-revelations within impressionistic images of handball games and bumper cars, and fireworks exploding across the night sky, capturing the rhythms of what Bruce Springsteen once termed “this boardwalk life.” It’s a fully realized vision that indelibly shapes Frankie’s journey.

Dickinson, in his debut, achieves an almost unfathomably rich reservoir of feeling. Frankie doesn’t say much; even if he did, he couldn’t articulate everything he might want to say.

But thanks to the star inhabiting him you feel as if you’ve seen the very depth of his soul.

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