Fort Tilden Dir. Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers

[Orion Pictures/MGM; 2014]

Styles: satire, character study
Others: Girls, Broad City, The Comedy

Fort Tilden is an eerie, semi-isolated beach situated on a slim tendril of land in the far east end of the Rockaways. It is on the site of a decommissioned military base, and features the shells of two mammoth gun batteries; an assortment of crumbling, sandblasted barracks; and a mile-wide expanse of thick shrubland. Under the purview of the National Park Service since 1974, it is one of the more bizarre and exceptional weekend destinations in the five boroughs.

Allie (Clare McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliott) are two shallow idiots trying to find their way to Fort Tilden after being invited there by a hunky guy. Allie is hoping to join the Peace Corps. Harper is an artist who lives off of money funneled to her by her mega-rich father. Fort Tilden follows their whiny, painfully complex journey to remotest Queens.

From the start, we know who we’re dealing with. The film opens at a lantern-festooned rooftop party in Williamsburg, where guitar-strumming twins serenade a crowd of sardonic, clued-in twentysomethings. Allie and Harper live in a well-apportioned double-loft apartment lifted wholesale from an Anthropologie catalog, where Infinite Jest is left conspicuously on the sofa to impress male friends. There can be no mistake: Allie, Harper, and their cohort are hipsters, and to them Fort Tilden is “so awesome in that post-apocalyptic way” and is also a place where you can “just, like, drink…without anyone bothering you.”

Fort Tilden is essentially a loosely strung-together series of vignettes that serve to illustrate the two main characters’ nihilistic self-absorption and almost surreal lack of street smarts. Not that anyone else is let off the hook: Allie and Harper meet plenty of fellow-travelers on their bike trip to the beach, and seemingly the entirety of young, white, privileged Brooklyn comes in for a skewering here. But the vision of Purgatory that Bliss and Rogers put forth is not fully-realized. Most of these scenes scan as improv or sketch comedy routines adapted to film, and it is often difficult to determine any real animating purpose beyond the filmmakers’ desire to reveal the full extent of Allie and Harper’s incompetence.

Bliss and Rogers want Fort Tilden to be an incisive satire of navel-gazing urban youth. But it is not closely-observed enough to be truly biting, and so instead rushes through a litany of hipster signifiers in order to garner knowing chuckles, which generally fall flat. There is a slight change in tone towards the end of the film, when attempts are made to lay bare the dysfunction at the heart of Allie and Harper’s relationship. But since the two central characters have been presented as cliche, cartoon versions of millenials who can’t take care of themselves, why should we suddenly start caring about their inner lives?

McNulty and Elliott are capable enough as actors to have handled a more nuanced take on the lives of these two young women. Fort Tilden instead resembles an actual version of what Girls is thought to be by many of its detractors: a cynical, self-indulgent traipse through the lives of egotistical post-pubescents whose actions are of no ultimate consequence.

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