Eliza Hittman’s newest film is ostensibly a sexual coming-of-age story, but “Beach Rats” is less a formative tale and more just a slice of life. Newcomer Harris Dickinson stars as the gorgeously stone-faced Frankie, a young Brooklyn deviant who spends his time looking to score some weed with his crew of like-minded friends. Frankie is outwardly cool, and he doesn’t show much emotion. Underneath, he’s struggling desperately. He spends much of his time secretly trolling gay dating sites looking to hook up with older men. Frankie is utterly lost, he’s unsure of who he is and, what’s worse, he has no one to help him figure it out. It’s his isolation, his aloneness in spite of the family and friends he’s surrounded by, that make “Beach Rats” so heart-wrenching. We don’t actually see Frankie change very much from beginning to end. This is why I see the film as more of a slice of life. There’s a powerful climax that could potentially be a turning point, but we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that Frankie is suffering, and that it doesn’t look like his suffering will end anytime soon. It’s brutal in its realism. Unfortunately, the film is often burdened by clumsy dialogue, but it does have great moments. It is strongest when it lets its beautiful visuals tell the story rather than its words.
Battle of the Sexes
Husband and wife duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris direct this historical retelling of the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). The result is a safe and straightforward telling of the events leading up to the match that, despite some weaker elements, is enjoyable to watch. Visually, the film is reminiscent of Dayton and Faris’ indie hit “Little Miss Sunshine.” The strict primary color palette and vibrant ’70s costumes (likely a lock for a Best Costume Oscar nomination) help to make up for some of its faults. Though the performances are good, the script doesn’t quite do them justice. The overt feminist message is often undermined by clumsy dialogue that doesn’t hit nearly as hard as it wants to. “Battle of the Sexes” hits full stride when focusing on King’s private life rather than the titular tennis match. King is a supremely talented athlete at the peak of her game, and even if we didn’t already know the result, it’s never really a question of whether she can beat Riggs, a 55 year-old clown just looking to stir the pot. The real battle is King’s struggle to keep secret her burgeoning love affair with Marilyn, her hairdresser. As the fearless yet vulnerable King, Emma Stone delivers what is, in my mind, easily her best performance to date. The self-described “male chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs is less interesting, but Carrell imbues the character with annoyingness and a fragility that renders him more pathetic than villainous. Though it isn’t as politically potent as it could be, “Battle of the Sexes” is worth a watch, if for no other reason than because it’s refreshing to see a strong depiction of a gay female athlete on the big screen.
Boston Strong. It’s a phrase that was inescapable in 2013. A survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) doesn’t feel Boston Strong at all, despite what everybody keeps telling him. “I’m a hero because I stood next to a bomb?” he asks. “Stronger” is the story of Jeff and his family as they deal with the fallout of the immensely traumatic event. Gyllenhaal is magnificent as the charming but flawed Jeff who battles with his trauma and physical disability. Though undeniably an Oscar-bait role, he plays the role with grace; he doesn’t overindulge. Just as noteworthy are the performances of Miranda Richardson as his pushy yet well-meaning mother, and Tatiana Maslany, Jeff’s on-again-off-again girlfriend. Jeff’s story was shown on every news outlet in the country. After losing his legs in the bombing, he was able to ID the bomber to the FBI, assisting in the suspect’s apprehension in an FBI standoff. What “Stronger” does is shed light on how Jeff’s status as a hero tore him apart. It’s refreshing to see a film in the inspirational true-story drama mold that doesn’t pull any punches in it’s depiction of PTSD. The pain and suffering he experiences, and the stress it puts on his loved ones, is honest and at times painful to watch. For a movie that is initially surprising in it’s disruption of the genre cliche, it doesn’t entirely avoid the formulaic three-act structure expected of it. Unfortunately in the final act the film seems to contradict some of the strong messages it sent with regard to PTSD, reverting to inspirational genre tropes. Weak ending aside, “Stronger” is a moving, well-directed depiction of a story that absolutely deserves to be told.
With “Logan Lucky,” Steven Soderbergh returns to the heist film subgenre, but he trades in the Las Vegas casinos of “Ocean’s Eleven” for the down and dirty of North Carolina. Brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan – Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, respectively – plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway after Jimmy gets laid off. After four years of retirement, Soderbergh’s return to the director’s chair is a strong one. The entire cast shines; Driver and Tatum are firing on all of their comedic cylinders, Daniel Craig goes against type as a raucous redneck safecracker and ten year-old Farrah Mackenzie is hysterically cute as Jimmy’s daughter Sadie. The film operates primarily as a boisterous comedy, but is loaded with subtle commentary on poverty, class and the power of family. If the prospect of a new film from one of America’s greatest living filmmakers isn’t enticing enough, then come for the sheer fun.