It’s refreshing to find that filmmakers still have new LGBT coming-out stories that are fresh and throw a different perspective on what is inevitably a difficult rite-of-passage for most gay youth. For her sophomore feature writer/director Eliza Hittman sets her story in Brooklyn where 19 year-old Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is struggling hard to find his own identity, sexual and otherwise. His mother is preoccupied with his father who is dying from cancer, and his fiercely independent younger sister already has her own boyfriend although she is too young to take the ‘relationship’ as far as she would like.
It’s the summer and as he is jobless and carless and left to his own devices, Frankie hangs out with his three close buddies at the beach and on the boardwalk. Like all teenagers the talk often turns to sex and sexual conquests, but frankly they all seem much keener on smoking pot to the point of being obsessed with scoring some more weed.
Frankie seems to the only one who seems to have any actual success with women and despite the fact he makes little or no effort, one night he gets picked up by Simone (Madeline Weinstein). When they end up back at his house and she starts undressing demanding to know ‘do you think I am pretty?‘ the best response he can come with ‘are you fishing for compliments?’ Minutes later he is holding her bra up on his chest and mimicking her, which brings the evening to a rapid close.
It’s all explained when he is later online and cruising men on a gay hook-up site and when he is asked ‘what are you into?’ responds very genuinely with “I really don’t know’. Bereft on anyone to talk too about his feelings he opens up a little to one of the older men that he finally agrees to meet for sex. He explains that he doesn’t necessarily have a preference for older guys but that he just feels safer as they will not know any of his circle of friends and so he will not get found out.
He begs a second chance with Simone and this time makes more of an effort to make her happy and have sex, but resists at the final point as she tries to tug his boxer shorts off. Then his pleading for a third chance is rejected because she claims he is far too much work. Meanwhile when his pals are decrying the shortage of weed, Frankie suggests that they are gay guys on line who would share their smoke, if they will just go along and pretend to be gay too.
This is a gamble as he is now exposing himself to the fact that he is familiar with these gay sites, but they are so desperate for the weed, they don’t question him too much and accept his feeble reasoning. The encounter almost turns into a nasty hate crime when they pounce on Frankie’s date and demand he hands over the weed.
It is obvious that when Frankie finally works out who he is, he may still have trouble accepting with the pressure on to conform to the norm of his working class mates, and also having to play the ‘man’ at home since his father died. He has no answers yet, and neither do we as Hittman very cleverly leaves us with a neat ambiguous ending.
It isn’t just the script that sets this particular movie from others in the pack this season, but also the cast, particular Harris Dickinson as Frankie who is such a revelation. Surprisingly this All-American looking youth is actually British, and he has this intensity in his eyes that is so powerful and helps makes his enlightened performance one of the very best from a newcomer that we have seen all year. It is very much his movie and it is helped by the fact that the cameras love him, as no doubt half the audience will too.
Frankie is maddeningly difficult to make out, but he is no more complex than any other teenager trying to discover if he fits somewhere along the LGBT spectrum. His journey working this out is however is what makes this excellent movie so compelling, not just for us who view it as entertainment, but also for others who haven’t started their own journeys yet.