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« Reviews: "The Post" and "The Greatest Showman" | Main | Doc Corner: Documentary Hits of 2017 »
Tuesday
Dec262017

Cinematic Inverses: Beach Rats and Call Me By Your Name

by Dancin' Dan

It's the time of year where we're all playing catch-up with everything we missed in theaters. This prepares us for that most sacred of cinephile traditions: End-of-year list-making!

I had heard a lot of good things about Eliza Hittman's Beach Rats when it was released in theaters late this summer, but I wasn't able to catch it. But nothing I had heard about it prepared me for what I found. Beach Rats is nothing if not the inverse of the acclaimed (and currently playing) Call Me By Your Name; nearly everything in one is the opposite of the other.

It starts with our protagonists, Harris Dickinson's Frankie and Timothée Chalamet's Elio. Both are possessed of a certain amount of self-confidence but even more self-doubt...

Frankie's confidence comes from his body - he knows he's attractive and, even better, able to pass as straight - while Elio's comes from his mind and skill - it's not enough that he play Bach flawlessly, he must play it as Liszt would have, and then as Busoni would have played Liszt's version of Bach's. But both Elio and Frankie are much less confident in matters of the heart - Frankie's constant refrain is "I don't know what I like," and Elio can barely tell if the object of his affection is into him, let alone what to say or do once that question clears up.

And here we come to the important difference: Elio has the freedom to explore his desires in pretty much whatever way he sees fit, while Frankie most decidedly does not. Each is a product of his environment: Elio has the sunny life of bi-continental intellectuals, Frankie the darker life of a lower-middle class family in Coney Island. Frankie's father is dying of cancer, not even able to talk, and though mother cares for him deeply, her focus is decidedly elsewhere. Elio's parents are full of love and eager to push Elio towards experiences they feel would be good for him, and are always there when he needs them.

[SPOILERS] Elio's parents mostly let him roam around the Italian countryside free as a bird. That freedom is what allows Elio to get close with Oliver and explore with him in private (and not-so-private). In order to get any where near the same kind of freedom, Frankie goes into anonymous internet chat rooms late at night and tries to arrange meets with other men. In neighborhoods that aren't his own. Those meetings, when they aren't derailed by his friends, are drenched in fear - fear that they'll be found, fear that he won't like it, fear that something will go wrong. Frankie's life is lived in fear, too. He'll try to work gayness into conversations, to test the waters, but it's always laughed at and shut down by his friends. When he sees one of his tricks while he's out with his friends and his girlfriend, his whole world stops. He can barely breathe from the fear that he might be found out.

Elio's only fear is that one day, Oliver will leave him. That he will go back to the States and the two of them will never see each other again. Which is inevitable. After a good cry, Elio can return to family and friends who love and support him. Given the words and actions of those closest to him when he moves towards revealing his true self, Frankie does not feel he has that kind of safety net, becoming trapped in a never-ending cycle of drugs, fear, and depression. [/SPOILERS]

Being a queer teen is hard. When all the TV shows, music videos, and movies you see are centered around heterosexual courtship, you can feel adrift. There's no template to follow if you're lucky enough to find other gay teens. But when you grow up with the space to explore who you are, it's more likely you'll land on your feet when things fall apart. Beach Rats and Call Me By Your Name present flip sides of the same coin - two films about LGBT teens trying to find themselves. In the latter, Elio gets the opportunity to explore his desires and find a measure of self-acceptance. Frankie's exploration is thwarted, leaving him in a much more dangerous place. These are both narratives that teenagers questioning their sexuality (and,more importantly, their parents) need to hear. How wonderful is it that we got both of them in the same year?

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Reader Comments (19)

"Being a queer teen is hard."

Imagine being a QPoC teen, then. Call Me By Your Name was basically just a Sean Cody movie in cinema form, where the muscled body of a blonde, blue-eyed, masculine, Aryan man was the object of desire and worshipped by the camera.

December 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

Why do we have to minimise one group’s experience by comparing it to someone worse off? I respect QPoC have points of view, stories to be told and there needs to be more of them being told, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a queer teen’s experience is any less hard or challenging and it is still a very relevant story that needs to be told - we’re all part of the same pie.

I appreciate all viewpoints and would never detract from another persons just because mine wasn’t the same - I love that these movies are made and stories are told and I’ll watch all movies from queer directors and movies that tell queer stories and appreciate them all!

Everybody say love!

December 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan

I found CMBYN quite moving, though I was not quite as taken by the romance between Oliver and Elio as many have been. While Hammer is effective, it was Chalamet who I was hypnotized by.

What I found truly beautiful in the movie was Elio and his family: Elio's absolute security with his parents, how he free he is in expressing himself and his curiosity with no fear; Mr. Perlman's justly feted speech at the end; and who is often ignored, Annella, Elio's mother, she of the perceptive glance and warm acceptance and generosity of spirit. Throughout the movie, I kept watching her watch Elio and the actress unfussily nails being observant without being intrusive or obvious. Kudos to Amira Casar, and I'm delighted that Luca Guadagnino had Annella read the fairy tale of the knight instead of Mr. Perlman. In fact, I loved every Perlman so much that I would watch a movie all about the Perlmans welcoming their various grad students.

December 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterstarlit

"Call Me By Your Name was basically just a Sean Cody movie in cinema form"

Jesus, what an opinion to have.

Great piece, Dan! As depressing as this year's been IRL it's been a landmark one for LGBT cinema, from Moonlight on through. It's nice not to have be embarrassed about Gay Cinema for a change, which is often so dire. I hope our stories continue to get told by such talented folks and with such disparate voices.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJason

beyaccount: kindly shut the fuck up.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbennyblack

Just a correction - I think Frankie is 20 or so, so he's not a teenager.

Another difference: "Beach Rats" is far less shy about nudity.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@beyaccount
Dear, just because you can't relate to this movie, or any movie, doesn't necessarily diminish its merit one bit, because obviously there are other people who can.
Not everything is about you. Not everything is designed to please you. So grow up.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterFrancis6

YES TO THIS ARTICLE!
Bitch, I am a person of color and I can relate just okay to them. Beyaccount stop ruining Beyonce's name.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Beach Rats felt reductive and sex negative to me. I am so sick of the queer male sexual repression narrative.

Precisely why I adore Call Me By Your Name’s exploration of sexual awakening, films queer people have yet to get enough of.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

It seems beyaccount is the new /3rtful.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Nice post, Dan! I recently watched Beach Rats and didn't care for it, which is a shame because I liked the director's last film. I feel like I do appreciate it a bit more after seeing the way you wrote about it. I couldn't get past his friends. They drove me insane.

Still waiting to see Call Me By Your Name.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrittani

Great post comparing these two movies. Love it. And both Dickinson and Chalamet are in my Best Actor top five this year.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

beyyaccount is completely correct.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjig

Each of these movies are in my top 5 for the year as are the leads.

This has been such an exciting year for a fresh crop of actors to appear and seize the spotlight from the old guard. I feel like there has been a real lack of exciting young male performers for awhile now and 2017 brought in a much needed change. Here's to many more exciting performances from these two young actors.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTD

I find it interesting that some view Hammer as the epitome of "Aryan," as he was actually playing a Jewish character in the film, and is part Jewish in reality.

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

@ Bruno - why are you bringing facts to an internet discussion?

It's all about being permanently offended over the slightest things and shielding the stupidity of the opinion behind claims of belonging to x or y or z minority group. You get bonus points if you use words like patriarchy and intersectionality.

December 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

For me, it's more about the way that people may misuse terms like that or throw them around willy-nilly. I'd like to understand when someone says they don't see themselves in a movie and can't relate to it. But describing a Jew as "Aryan" is just irresponsible.

December 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

This was a really wonderful piece, Dan. It's making me want to rewatch both of these seemingly similar films again! And again!

December 29, 2017 | Registered CommenterIlich Mejia

since somebody brought up sean cody, the pack of boys in beach rats are one bad career decision away from being stars

December 29, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterpar

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