Review: “Fort Tilden” (**)

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Clare McNulty and Bridey Elliott star in “Fort Tilden.”

The tagline for “Fort Tilden” might as well have been something that’s similarly self-indulgent and self-aware like hashtagwhitegirlproblems. It was a film that I found to be extremely disappointing. I went into “Fort Tilden” with high hopes; this is exactly the kind of movie that, generally, I love: smaller, independent quirky comedies where the humor isn’t forced and the characters aren’t flat. Written and directed by both Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, this film was painstaking in its evocation of reality for its two primary characters: Allie (Clare McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliott).

“Fort Tilden” is a film that felt drained and overdone to me: two privileged white girls, stuck in NYC with nothing to do and no pressure to do it. With hopes of sex and adventure, the girls agree to meet two boys at Fort Tilden Beach for a day of drugs and fun. This day, as I’m sure you might have guessed, wasn’t at all what they expected. They run into pitfalls and problems and potholes along the way. And once they finally trudge their way up to the white sand beaches of Fort Tilden, they discover that the boys they worked all day to meet, were enjoying the beach with other women. Allie and Harper accidentally give their drugs to these people without saving any for themselves. Oh dear. How can things get worse for Harper and Allie, you ask? Well, they then realize that the boys that they’ve worked so hard to meet are all underage. The underage kids go home, and then Allie and Harper call a cab to take them home. Harper calls her dad and admits to how lost she feels; Allie decides not join the Peace Corps. The credits roll. That’s it.

The concept of this film is a fine one; the blueprints and bones of it look good. It’s the filler that makes it so difficult. Their problems aren’t even problems. Harper complains about having no money and then pays a homeless man two hundred dollars for a barrel that he has no claim to; they literally could have taken it and walked away. They try to bike to Fort Tilden because they want to save money and be adventurous, but the whole time they’re on their bikes they complain… and Harper ends up calling a cab anyway. They get kicked out of a cab because the driver doesn’t like Harper’s dad (she tells him an offensive story as they’re driving). Their bikes get stolen because they’re too lazy to lock them up. These aren’t problems that normal people have; as far as physical humor and scope, I couldn’t really buy into it. I do, however, completely understand the sensation of feeling lost and helpless in life. I think that’s something nearly everyone experiences, and it’s a feeling that’s particularly acute in your mid-twenties. But the delivery of that sentiment just felt all-wrong to me.

“Fort Tilden” is film that can’t help but be polarizing. I have no doubt that there are some people out there who loved it, enjoying fully the small moments of humor and the identifiable threads of listlessness and familiarity. For every person who liked it, however, I imagine that there are two people who fall into the latter category—the category that found “Fort Tilden” to be self-indulgent, self-deprecating and pale. At first, this film felt like a less sincere, less earnest, less polished version of Noah Baumbauch’s “Frances Ha,” and then after about halfway through the film, I had an easier time comparing it to Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” Though, at the conclusion of this film, I don’t think it’d be quite fair to compare “Fort Tilden” to these two projects because it lacks the finesse that “Girls” and “Frances Ha” achieve and maintain. It’s too scripted to be charming like films identified as ‘Mumblecore.’

Despite how drained and pale “Fort Tilden” felt, I must admit, there were some deliciously funny moments. They were small and quick, but good nonetheless. There’s a moment where Allie and Harper are standing in a bodega trying to explain to the Hispanic woman what iced coffee is and that they want it (why they couldn’t go to one of the many, many other coffee shops in the city, I don’t know); and they become quiet and polite when the woman fills two cups with ice and then proceeds to pour hot coffee over them. Another time, they’re waiting in line and through the store window they see some guy finagling with their bikes. They remain motionless while discussing what to do. The woman behind them advices that they go stop that man because he’s about to steal the bikes. He steals the bikes. And deadpan, the woman behind them delivers: “I just watched you watch that boy steal your bike.” A gem.

I really do wish I could rate this film a bit higher. I wanted to like it. I wanted to enjoy it. I found it to be really tough to slug through, though.

2 out of 5 stars.

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