Sundance 2017: A star is born in ‘Beach Rats’

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Harris Dickinson (center) stars in “Beach Rats” from director Eliza Hittman. (Photo Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival)

 

You probably aren’t familiar with the name Harris Dickinson. But expect in the months ahead to be hearing a lot about this talented 20-year-old. The British actor is earning some well-deserved buzz at the Sundance Film Festival for his stunning performance in “Beach Rats,” which received its world premiere there.

The handsome Dickinson takes full command of the screen as Frankie, a sexually conflicted guy with an attractive girlfriend and a bunch of bro buddies. But Frankie isn’t satisfied with his girlfriend, and spends many nights online and then hooking up with men he meets in chatrooms.

It’s a demanding role that requires Dickinson to be both cocky and vulnerable. And he aces it, giving a performance that’s so real and unaware of the camera, it makes you feel painfully uncomfortable to watch at times as if you’re nothing but a Peeping Tom peering in at the most intimate moments of someone’s secretive life.

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Eliza Hittman is one of our best emerging filmmakers. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Film Festival)

“Beach Rats” keenly aware director and screenwriter Eliza Hittman deserves equal praise. She’s an observant filmmaker who puts the characters above any plot, and she’s also someone who truly grasps what independent moviemaking can accomplish  better than mainstream filmmaking. Her  first coming-of-age drama, 2014’s spot-on “It Felt Like Love,” was another honest, uncluttered portrait of a young person rustling through sexual desire and confusion. “Beach Rats” is as good, and serves as a perfect companion piece to her first, and hopefully many more insightful portraits.

“Beach Rats” is up for consideration in the best U.S. drama category, with the winner being announced Sunday. It’s one of my favorite films from the fest.

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