Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2017. Cinereach, Animal Kingdom, Secret Engine. Screenplay by Eliza Hittman. Cinematography by Helene Louvart. Produced by Brad Becker-Parton, Andrew Goldman, Drew P. Hout, Paul Mezey. Music by Nicholas Leone. Production Design by Grace Yun. Costume Design by Olga Mill. Film Editing by Scott Cummings, Joe Murphy. Gotham Awards 2017. Independent Spirit Awards 2017.
A sullen Coney Island teenager (Harris Dickinson) spends a great deal of aimless time with his friends, hitting on girls, smoking up and staying out all night, while at home his father is dying and his mother is doing her best to keep things together. At night, Dickinson’s secret life is spent going online to look up guys he can have sex with, almost all his liaisons taking place in furtive, dark places. A girl he meets becomes his girlfriend despite his reticence to really be present with her, while his online encounters threaten to challenge his personal sexual identity when he crosses a line in the film’s intense but thankfully not inappropriately melodramatic conclusion. Eliza Hittman’s subtle, moody film has all the makings of something indulgent and preachy (like Oliver Hermanus’ Beauty, for example), but it unfolds with a natural rhythm that makes it feels like sympathetic observation instead of a depressing collection of teachable moments. Dickinson is remarkably attractive, physically and emotionally, possessing a charisma that makes a film without much outward activity always feel like a lot is happening. The Claire Denis-like eroticism with which Hittman films him and his firm, frequently shirtless friends never pretends to be solely intellectual in nature, but the images do possess a visual poetry that feels sexy and important at the same time, so feel free to watch it for the wrong reasons and get more than you expected.