*This is a reprint of our SXSW 2014 review.
Remember when tying your shoes was an impossible chore? When you could only get places at the discretion of your mom’s minivan? When you didn’t know how to cook yourself a meal so you relied on someone else’s feeding hand so that you wouldn’t starve? These, among others, are lessons that Fort Tilden‘s anti-heroines never seemed to learn.
As helpless as they are hapless, twenty-somethings Allie and Harper are two Brooklyn tweethearts utterly incapable of caring for themselves or others. Something as simple as meeting new friends at the eponymous Fort Tilden, a hip hideaway on a nearby New York beach, becomes an endeavor the equivalent of trekking to Mordor. Fort Tilden is their weekend Everest. Their prize a pair of swinging dicks to add notches in their paramour belts. How hard can going to the beach be? In this case, damn near impossible. From bikes to cabs, walking to hitching, this five-ish mile trek might as well be uphill both ways through six vertical feet of snow in the middle of a moonless night.
Unfit for a seemingly painless journey such as this, the odd couple mess their way through the “rough” spots of the city. In their bleak odyssey, co-writers and directors Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ condemn the incomptent age of the e-tarded. Destitute without their iPhones, never able to look three steps into their futures and wholly lost without an aiding stranger, Allie and Harper are the bane of the millennials.
In their wake, a trail of broken hearts, pissed off acquaintances, abandoned responsibilities and poorly made iced coffees. Hansel and Gretel left a trail of bread crumbs to follow home, Allie and Harper could follow the bitter glances and stink of disapproval back to their hipster homestead. Completely unaware of how their selfish acts of careless bravado effect the world around them, they are all but reprehensible in their ever-waking action.
Smug, apathetic, careless, rude; throw all the negative descriptors you want at these two and it’ll probably stick but, through all of it, they’re honest. At least Harper (Bridey Elliott) is. She’s a heartless bitch but she knows herself. She fully commits to her many, many shortcomings even at the cost of others derision and scorn. At least being honest to oneself is an admirable trait, right?
In a bind, Harper phones up daddy in her whiniest, whittle baby girl voice, fishing for a direct deposit without ever mentioning the phrase, “I need money”. She knows how to wrap people around her little finger and is downright uncomfortable in any relationship where that’s not the case. Even her best friend (though Harper’s too jaded to ever use that term) is measurably her puppet. Although Allie (Clare McNulty) at first seems the more sensitive and sensible of the two, upon getting to know her better, we learn she’s really no better than Harper. She just hasn’t quite committed to her sins in the same way.
Allie feigns sticking to her moral guns (refusing to abandon a borrowed bike, choosing to rescue discarded kittens, flirting around the point in conversations even where the only goal is clearly to benefit herself and Harper) but one ounce of Harper’s callous pressure is all her emotional fulcrum needs for Allie to throw up her hands in defeat. Though Harper is a devoted misanthrope, Allie’s resistance to such makes her the more interesting one.
As the devilish duo, McNulty and Elliot share outstanding chemistry. They’re two sides of one coin, two faces of the same clueless Janus. Their desperation is pathetic, their ineptitude a welcome mat for easy laughs but the two performers never pass along an ounce of judgement for their down in the dumps characters, giving them humanity that they might otherwise lack. Their straight-faced comic dynamics look born from years of working with each other so it comes as a bit of a surprise that both these breakout actresses only met during auditions. The success of Fort Tilden rests squarely on their capable shoulders and even through the thick layer of their disagreeableness, they’re fascinating characters through and through.
Cinematographer Brian Lannin makes good use of the rustic settings and concrete jungles, sun blasting the scenes when needed, adding an extra layer of disorientation and distress to the affairs. The snappy, ruthless screenplay works best when Allie and Harper fail at the most benign tasks but never betrays Bliss and Rogers affinity for their love-to-hate-em characters. And this is part and parcel of what makes Tilden pop.