Beach Rats (2017)

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★★★★

“I don’t know what I like,” admits Frankie (Harris Dickinson) towards the start of this dark and dreamy drama. A Brooklyn teenager spending a summer avoiding his father’s sickbed, Frankie escapes his depressing home life by smoking spliffs with his buddies and hitting the boardwalk to raise hell.

He’s also on a brooding journey of self-discovery. What /does/ Frankie like and why is it so hard for him to accept? It’s a rare film that addresses such vast questions in so uncompromising a way, but director Eliza Hittman accomplishes exactly that with Beach Rats.

We quickly learn that Frankie’s real passions lie with members of the same sex. He surfs gay webcam sites at night before agreeing to meet up with an older man. After a passionate woodsy encounter, he goes back to hanging with his surfer bros and even acquires a girlfriend in shop-worker Simone (Madeline Weinstein).

But it’s clear Frankie’s just treading water, uncertain how to process these new desires. “Two girls can make out and it’s hot,” says Simone. “Two guys make out and it’s gay.”

Though shrewd, exchanges like these are infrequent. With the bare minimum in dialogue, Hittman instead focusses on every part of Frankie’s body in a study that’s refreshingly, even brutally honest.

Brit up-and-comer Dickinson is magnetic as the young tearaway, his sea-blue eyes both curious and troubled, and the role’s exposing in every way possible, from a glimpse of a flaccid cock when Frankie fools around with Simone, to a final confrontation that fizzes with fusillade emotion. This isn’t necessarily a coming-out drama destined for a happy ending, but it’s captivating nonetheless.

This review originally appeared in Crack magazine.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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★★★★★

“If only you knew how little I knew about the things that matter,” drawls Elio (Timothée Chalamet) halfway through Call Me By Your Name. Seventeen, quietly creative, loudly bored, he’s talking to the handsome grad student who’s spending the summer of ’83 at his parents’ Italy home. It’s the culmination of weeks of furtive flirtation. “What things?” asks the object of his affection. “You know what things,” murmurs Elio. Indeed, we do.

In a film that floats between coming-of-age ennui and heart-stopping moments of beauty, this is the first time Elio talks openly about his feelings. Up until this point, Luca Guadagnino’s alluring adaptation of André Aciman’s 2007 novel luxuriates in ambiguity. Between bright cups of apricot juice and tins of Illy coffee, the story unspools of Elio’s crush on 24-year-old grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer), an all-American jock in tiny shorts whose breezy geniality aggravates as much as it allures.

As the duo embark on winding country bike rides and circle each other in sun-dappled courtyards, Chalamet and Hammer cast a beguiling spell. In a giant step up from playing Matthew McConaughey’s son in Interstellar, Chalamet is remarkable, etching an unshowy portrait of a boy on the cusp of adulthood; constantly pretending, seemingly unsure how to behave. Chalamet speaks fluent English, Italian and French, plays the piano and, in the film’s boldest holdover from Aciman’s novel, fearlessly enacts an unforgettable moment with a peach.

Hammer, meanwhile, is a revelation. Departing each scene with a maddening “later”, he’s a million miles from big-budget blow-outs such as The Lone Ranger and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Pivotally, he’s unafraid of allowing Oliver to be unlikeable, lending this luminously optimistic film an edge that kills sentimentality in its tracks.

Guadagnino is a master of the slow build but, unlike the mounting hysteria of I Am Love and the shock rug-pulls of A Bigger Splash, this feels more urgently personal, capturing the pleasures and pains of youth with bracing sensitivity. When Elio talks of “things that matter” it’s relatable no matter your gender or orientation. CMBYN finds a neat balance between heart and art (something Guadagnino has struggled with), whether it’s referencing Heraclitus or playing on Hellenic male relationships.

Of course, there are also Ray-Bans and ‘Love My Way’ by The Psychedelic Furs; the magic of Guadagnino’s film is in its deceptively freewheeling style. In its final moments, CMBYN offers a powerfully emotional full stop; those things that matter have rarely been more arrestingly captured.

Verdict: Peachy keen. A luminous, sun-kissed Italian love story brimming with warmth, passion and feeling. This is utterly unmissable.

This review was originally published in Total Film magazine.

Living for the Weekend – Chris New interview

Gritty new romance Weekend is Britain’s answer to Brokeback Mountain – a sizzling exploration of gay identity that’s as smart as it is sexy. Star Chris New chats to Josh Winning about celebrities, gay rights and getting his clothes off…

Weekend’s getting loads of really positive buzz. Are you ready to become a celebrity?
People get very funny about becoming celebrities. In the acting world, all you do is constantly battle your ego, and that’s why people like becoming famous – they give in to their ego when everybody starts telling them they’re brilliant. Michael Jackson, Britney Spears. I’d rather do the washing up.

You actually whip your clothes off for the film as well, don’t you?
I do. I do a Ewan McGregor. I was a bit nervous ’cos you can’t act when you’re naked. You can’t really say, ‘This is the character’s penis,’ it just is your penis.

Weekend’s had a very warm reception Stateside even from non-gay audiences. Are you surprised by that?
The good thing is there seems to be a consensus from audiences saying, ‘Come on now, stop thinking this is just a gay film. There’s got to be more to this.’ It’s surprising what’s happening in America. It started on one screen in New York, and now it’s gone to 16 or 20 screens. That must mean it’s not just a gay audience that’s going to see it.

Do you think it’s a sign that being gay is becoming more and more accepted?
I think it’ll just happen naturally, we don’t need to force it. If we would just relax about it a bit, we’d find we’ve moved quite a long way. I’ve got older gay friends who I like to sit around and talk with about what the world was like when they were my age. Obviously for the majority of them being gay was illegal, so that creates an almost unimaginable mindset. One of my friends is Ian McKellen, obviously he’s had an amazing history, and it’s great to talk to him about this stuff. We have a gay film night at his house where we watch classics and documentaries, and it’s really interesting to hear what happened in people’s lives.

Ian McKellen’s been very active in gay rights, hasn’t he?
When I was growing up in Swindon, I didn’t understand what the gay movement had done for us. I’d heard of section 28, which meant my teacher couldn’t discuss being gay with me. There was one lunchtime when I was 13, he said, ‘Is there something you need to tell me?’ And I was like, ‘Nope.’ The law was that he couldn’t raise the idea, but he was trying to say, ‘I know you’re different and you’re allowed to talk about it.’ It was a very brave, generous thing to do. He could’ve lost his job.

Your love interest in Weekend, Tom Cullen, is actually straight. Isn’t that every gay man’s dream?
Not my dream! Straight men do nothing but pester me! I’m never the one going after the straight men – the straight men are usually coming to have an experiment with me. Whenever straight boys are like, ‘I just thought we’d mess around a bit,’ I’m like, ‘Go home, decide what you want to be, I don’t want to be your play thing.’ I’m a married man now. We didn’t actually buy rings, we bought iPads. We’ll get rings one day.

Do you think straight actors playing gay roles get all the praise, but not vice versa?
I’ve mentioned that to Tom, asked him if anybody’s said to him, ‘You’re very brave,’ and he’s said, yeah, people have. A lot of the scripts that come through for me are usually for a gay character, but if it says, ‘Gay. Funny. Best friend of girl’, I say no straight away. Then suddenly you’ll get a script like Weekend which is so different, it’s a huge relief. You have to jump at those scripts. Bob Hoskins calls good scripts ‘bum-nummers’, because he reads them on the toilet and if he stays there it must be a good script!