Before Midnight meets Romy and Michele
When I first read the synopsis for Fort Tilden, I knew it was something that I was going to check out during my time at SXSW. Since it’s World Premiere on March 8th, Fort Tilden has been getting some mixed buzz at the festival. After hearing so many mixed opinions on the film, I was pretty surprised to learn that it won the Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Awards. After the win, I made it my top priority to check out the very next screening of the film.
Fort Tilden tells the story of two friends, Allie (Clare McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliott). These two best friends think they have life all figured out. Allie is about to leave for the Peace Corps, while Harper is a dreamer whose dad is supporting her creative endeavors. One night at a party, the two girls meet Sam (Griffin Newman) and Russ (Jeffrey Scaperrotta) and immediately hit it off. As they are about to go their seperate ways for the evening, Russ mentions that Sam and himself will be heading to the beach at Fort Tilden in the morning. After hearing these plans, Allie and Harper decide that it would be awesome to come along. The following morning, Allie and Harper embark on a trip to the beach that will ultimately change their friendship and lives forever.
Before I go any further, I need to point out that over the past few years there has been an influx of female driven films about the quarter life crisis. These films usually focus on a female lead or leads trying to figure out the direction their life should go in at 20-something. I personally am all for films that discuss the idea of a quarter life crisis. It is a topic that hasn’t been discussed much in film and is something that many young adults face after graduating college.
With that being said, Fort Tilden is one of those films that explores the life of two 20-somethings. The problem with Fort Tilden, however, is that it tries way too hard to tell its story through random “what the fuck” moments that very seldomly work. On their way to the beach, Allie and Harper buy a barrel from a guy on the street, they run a bike into a baby carriage, and find a bunch of kittens in the woods. These are not all of the film’s random moments, but simply some of the ones that really stood out.
There are so many scenes within Fort Tilden that are here to push the story along but they lack any real purpose. There is a literally a scene where Allie and Harper make it to the beach and see Russ and Sam with two other females. The two girls, Sage (Christine Spang) and Mia (Hallie Haas) are topless on the beach. There is no point to them being topless at all. The scene only becomes stranger when Allie and Harper take off their tops as well. As a guy, I will admit that all the ladies have very nice boobs but why the hell did any of them have to be topless for this scene? It makes no damn sense.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love random moments in films and television shows but Fort Tilden failed at incorporating them to produce substance or laughs. This is the biggest problem with Fort Tilden as a whole; the random moments adds nothing to the story including little to no laughs. My entire audience sat through the film and laugher was few and far between. It honestly feels like Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers were trying to make the film random just for the sake of being random. This made about 80% of the film’s random moments miss the mark completely.
Now, I know I am sounding overly harsh but I did enjoy certain elements of the film. I loved the idea of following the girls though a single day of their life. Despite not liking a lot of the silly and pointless scenes, I did find myself enjoying spending some time with Harper and Allie. The music choices throughout the film were pretty damn awesome and the direction for the most part was really spot on. Some of the smaller conversations that occurred throughout the film were really great, however, they were never fleshed out as much as they should have been.
Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty were really great in their roles and did as much as they could with the material they were given. Elliott was incredibly unlikable as Harper but that is exactly how her character was suppose to be. Harper is one of those girls that thinks she is better than everyone else. She is selfish, mean-spirted, and always placing blame on everyone else but herself. Harper is clearly the complete opposite as her bestie, Allie.
While Elliot got to be a total cunt in the film, Clare McNulty got to be the star. While this is the journey of two friends, Allie was the one that got to be the center of attention. Allie is likable and is the character that most members of the audience will connect with. She is uncertain about her life and often struggles with the decisions she had to make. Throughout most of the film, it implies that Allie has a huge problem with commitment.
The scenes of confrontation between Allie and Harper serve as some of the film’s finer moments. These serious scenes take place sporadically during the second half. These scenes made me feel 100% invested to the story and characters. I felt like Allie and Harper worked well as characters and the duo had amazing chemistry with one another. I just wish that the script fleshed out more of these serious discussions rather than random scenes that never lead up to anything of importance.
While the film does end on a non-comedic note it doesn’t, however, leave you feeling very fulfilled. As Fort Tilden progressed, I was hoping for something other than random situations and constant complaining about wanting iced coffee. I did get some great moments here and there, but there just wasn’t enough of them to make this film really work. The entire film needed more substance rather than weird situations that these two girls kept putting themselves into on the way to the beach.
All in all, Fort Tilden is an OK film that will leave audience members feeling somewhat unsatisfied by the time the end credits begin to roll. While the film does have its fair share of shining moments, there are way too many flaws within Fort Tilden to ignore. Part of me feels bad for not fully enjoying the film because its obvious that these filmmakers have talent. I loved the music, the direction, the performances, and the few serious moments within the film.
But with all that being said, I honestly hated almost everything else about Fort Tilden and felt it was completely and utterly pointless in the end. It is definitely a film that I can see some loving, but many more hating. I personally am indifferent on the film and felt it just exists in the sea of independent cinema. This will never be a big release, but one that I can see obtaining a small cult following once it hits Blu Ray or instant stream.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for Fort Tilden is a 5 out of 10.