2015 Film Reviews

Review: Sarah Violet-Bliss and Charles Rogers’ ‘Fort Tilden’

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Millennials are fucked. Directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rodgers have managed to take the narcissistic self-involvement of a Woody Allen picture and fold it smoothly into a New York hipster comedy ala Noah Baumbach (think Greta Gerwig). A chatter-filled, eclectic stroll through Brooklyn, Fort Tilden eyes landmarks as if checking boxes to build credibility (shout out to Reggie Watts), while treating its subjects with such passive disdain that one cannot help but become enraptured by their amblings amongst the graffiti-bestrewn urban sprawl.

Devoid of compassion, empathy, concrete worldview or any of the other traits that are, at least in part, necessary for joining humanity, Allie (Clare McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliott) are the worst. A product of their parents’ money and their aloof New York surroundings, the girls are bereft of any discernible talents, and they are utterly lacking the skills to maintain their current fairytale lifestyles. While Harper pursues a career as an artist, Allie looks to the Peace Corps to fulfill the emptiness in her heart while providing plenty of opportunities to make “memories” via Instagram and Facebook. A roof party for a pair of talentless musical twins leads to a chance encounter with interesting boys, and an even more interesting proposition: a beach day at Fort Tilden — and what beach day would be complete without MDMA? Upon discovering that their excitement is not, in and of itself, enough to propel them magically to “The Fort,” Harper and Allie find that the 12-15 mile pilgrimage might just kill them — or far worse, make them extremely uncomfortable.

A film like Fort Tilden could easily turn remarkably sour if it weren’t founded on a witty and true-to-life script. Full of intelligent crack-up dialogue, the screenplay — written by Bliss, Rogers and Brian Lannin — grounds the almost grandiosely ignorant characters in an unflinching reality. When spoken by McNulty and Elliott, the reckless chatter becomes a series of meticulously thought-out quips chained together by an understanding of social niceties acquired through years of gallery openings and brunches. The stuffiness of everyone involved is put on bombastic display from the topics of discussion in the opening roof party to Harper’s tactful placement of a copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest on her couch, while culminating with the pinnacle of snobbish pomposity after Allie inadvertently bumps a brownstone stroller by riding her bike the wrong way up the street. The frantic exchange that follows this minor run-in highlights the crux of Fort Tilden‘s message — self-absorption is only totally apparent when viewed outside of the context of self. Harper and Allie think that the world is a harsh unforgiving place, and they are simply unsure how to proceed through its many twists and turns. They are no more conceited than the Brooklyn mom who considers herself and her child superior to two girls on bicycles, or the gaggle of men who come to the rescue in order to fulfill some imaginary “good deed” quotient for the day.

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With its capable cast of comedic and non-comedic actors, Fort Tilden presents an immensely funny view of a day-gone-wrong. Unassuming conversations between Allie and an upstairs neighbor, along with those of Harper and nearly everybody in the film, become farcical tête-à-têtes made all the more ridiculous when delivered with nearly emotionless faces. What’s more, these Brooklynites meet each new level of egocentricity with a completely straight face. Unfazed by almost everything, we are to assume that a combination of life in New York City and the horribly arrogant people that proliferate it eventually turn everyone into a calloused husk of a person; this homogenous mass of hipsters lack any true interest for outsiders, and they are far too caught up in their own “imperative” needs to condescend to anyone else’s level.

A refreshing and dryly-hilarious glimpse into life at a certain time in a certain place, Fort Tilden brilliantly captures the “struggles” of two women who are uncertain of their roles in life. Surrounded by liars, pretentious rich kids and everyone’s sense of magniloquent big-headedness, the characters of the film provide as much entertainment as they do a road map of social interaction — it becomes almost like a Frommer’s Guide to Williamsport, Brooklyn with a handy English-to-Hipster translator in the appendices.

Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of sunny San Diego, California. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.

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