I spent a lot of time throughout the duration of this film actively hating the two lead characters. Harper (Bridey Elliot) and Allie (Clare McNulty) are instantly loathsome in their depictions. They’re shallow, self-obsessed, and mean-spirited. They don’t even seem to enjoy one another’s company, only tolerating it because it’s what they’re familiar with. The film follows the duo as they trek across New York City to reach Fort Tilden, where they’ve invited themselves along to a get-together planned by two strangers they met at a party. I have been blessed as to have never befriended people like Harper and Allie, but they make for an interesting, if not tedious, pairing, particularly one that is a scathing reflection of what people believe millennials are.
Have you noticed that the term “millennial” has begun to adopt almost a dirty word sound to it? As if it’s supposed to be an insult?
Harper and Allie, both in their mid-twenties, are floundering in their free time. Relying on her dad’s income to stay afloat (and as someone who has lived in a shitty apartment, theirs looks spacious and fantastic), Harper has the time to be an artist, one who wants art to come to her rather than putting herself out there. Allie is joining the Peace Corps in a move most people seem to believe won’t be followed through with. Allie sees it as a good step forward into adulthood, while the rest of the world sees it as an escape.
The film plays out in stages as the girls try to reach their destination but are continually distracted. They decide they’ll ride their bikes to be conservative with their money but also because they believe it’s the hip thing to do. They toss a copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest in case they need to impress boys they plan to bring back to their apartment later. They whine about how much they need ice coffee and make it about five feet from their apartment before being distracted by a barrel sitting on the side of the street. They’re drifters who desperately want to fit the image of hipster, New Yorker socialite but go about it in wildly awkward ways.
The humor doesn’t always land well, with the jokes being rapid and forcing us to endure the characters’ awkwardness. Harper and Allie’s characters are so shallow, and little effort is put in to make them more than the caricatures they want to be themselves.
There is one moment in this film where everything seemed to click, and I can’t help but wish the entire movie had managed to keep hold of the same feeling. In the last third of the film, the girls get to the beach and, in a fit of needing to blend in, go topless. Harper sits poised, pretending to be confident as ever, playing a role of seductress that she doesn’t fit effortlessly into, while Allie, seemingly her shadow, follows suit but is noticeably uncomfortable. However, something throughout the interaction shifts, and Allie becomes the person leading the conversation and fitting in while Harper turns into the girl craving attention and integrating herself poorly. It’s one of the most honest moments in the film, where the girls are laid bare for the audience to see rather than being myopic narcissists.
Directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, there is a naturalist atmosphere to the girls’ voyage through New York City. Rather than feeling larger than life as many other NYC bound films do, Fort Tilden feels familiar, trekking through spaces more lived-in, rather than being simply picturesque. I’m sure to Harper and Allie this would be a treat, considering their need to be “authentic.” Whatever the hell that means.
It’s hard to enjoy the film when the characters leading our way are so tirelessly insufferable, even if that is the point of the film. While I don’t count the likeability of a character to be the crux of a film’s success, it certainly helps that even if you don’t like them, you can watch them and be entertained or find them interesting. However, there is a skill behind the camera and a self-awareness in the script that carries the more frustrating aspects. Led by two confident, newcomer performers and accompanied by a daringly abrasive script, Fort Tilden isn’t a completely satisfying win, but it showcases a lot of untapped potential for all involved.
The movie hits theaters and VOD in a limited release today.