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A sort of road picture, but on bicycles, and a comedy, but with serious moments, “Fort Tilden” is a delicious send-up of New York City and over-privileged Millennial women. You may think that demographic may be tapped out after the TV show “Girls,” but writer/directors Sarah-Violent Bliss and Charles Rogers, and stars Clare McNulty and Bridey Elliott, find a ton of original material to mine.
Allie (McNulty) and Harper (Elliott) are 25 and share a fabulous apartment in Brooklyn, though they don’t seem to have any discernible income or direction in life. Harper is ostensibly an artist who’s never sold anything, and Allie is an indecisive type who seizes upon different grand plans and then drops them. Currently, she’s set to depart for Peace Corps work in Liberia.
Considering she’s the type of person who freaks out if the cab takes more than five minutes to arrive, Liberia would seem to be biting off more than she can chew. “I heard they sell human flesh on the streets there,” an acquaintance helpfully advises.
The relationship between the girls is genuinely friendly, but with undercurrents of competition and resentment. Harper is outgoing and self-confident; Allie is the sort who says “sorry” three or four times a minute, even though she hasn’t done anything.
At a party, they espy a seriously hunky guy named Russ (Jeffrey Scaperrotta) and flirt with him. He’s accompanied by his friend Sam (Griffin Newman), who’s a nerdy hipster type. Upon learning the boys plan to spend the next day at Fort Tilden Beach in the Rockaways, Harper unceremoniously invites herself along.
Allie, despite having an important meeting with her Peace Corps supervisor, is cajoled into going, though it’s not too hard since she also has designs on Russ. The rest of the movie is all about their misadventures in making it to Fort Tilden.
It’s interesting that the underlying dynamic of their journey is that both women want to hook up with Russ, and that while they secretly compete to see who it will be, neither ever for a moment considers Sam as a more suitable target. He’s simply the tagalong of the hot friend, the less attractive one who must be navigated around to get to the prize. I wonder: Do they consider that the men might also regard them the same way?
First glance might suggest Harper, who is model-pretty and a smooth operator, is the Russ of their pair. But I like how McNulty gives Allie a sort of neurotic confidence, in that she refuses to be dismissed as anyone’s second fiddle. There’s a backbone there, if she can just locate it.
Alas, the women are hopeless travelers. They resolve to ride bikes to the beach, despite the fact it is many miles away and Harper does not even possess a bicycle. After borrowing one from a schlumpy neighbor, they quickly get lost in a seedy section of town, and are constantly distracted by the need for iced coffee, impromptu clothes shopping trips, and so on.
Allie is intermittently harassed via text message by the Peace Corps woman she blew off. Both also flirt-text with Russ to let him know their progress, and position themselves above the other.
Allie and Harper are annoying, ridiculous people, but the cast and crew invest a lot of love in the pair, and we can’t help but feel some of that affection rub off on us. They’re both celebrating and mocking these characters.
One scene, where the gals dally as a boy appears to be scoping out their unlocked bikes, is an exercise in pure comedic genius. A close second is one where they buy an old wooden barrel they fancy for their apartment as an umbrella holder — even though they don’t actually own any umbrellas, and, even if they did, would probably forget to grab one on a cloudy day.
I won’t give too much away, other than to say the gals make it to their destination eventually but find things do not turn out the way they’d expected, and their friendship is tested.
“Fort Tilden” is a wonderful character study of a couple of women who are still getting their act together. Watching them flail and fail is never dull.