Film Review: Fort Tilden (★★★)

fort-tilden-posterIt took a while for Fort Tilden to finally hit theaters, but the 2014 SXSW Grand Jury Award winner is finally here, and its upcoming August release couldn’t have been more timely. As we head into the final dog days of summer, this indie comedy portrays a common objective – going to the beach. In this case, the beach is Fort Tilden, and for best friends Allie and Harper, the journey is even more important than the destination.

Allie (Clare McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliott) are a pair of young twentysomethings living in New York City. Like many millennials, their transition to responsible adulthood has been slow, to put it mildly. As is her wont, Allie is searching for “a cause” and misguidedly plans to join the Peace Corps in Liberia. Harper on the other hand, is a struggling artist whose carefree lifestyle is bankrolled by her enabling father. Though they have a general idea of what they want to do, Allie is already overwhelmed by the paperwork required for her trip and Harper is unable to find the inspiration to be productive. Adult life is just too much for them to handle, so when they meet some attractive young men at a party who are going to the beach the next day, they quickly sieze the opportunity to join them and de-stress.

But the girls soon learn that the road to Fort Tilden is bumpy one that will test their friendship, in ways both good and bad. They share similar taste in men and enjoy shopping, but the genial blonde Allie and the more abrasive brunette Harper butt heads when it comes to their attitudes towards other people and work. Indeed, they are like Betty and Veronica re-imagined as Williamsburg hipsters.

Those “frenemies” of Archie comics fame go way back to the fifties, but Fort Tilden’s Allie and Harper firmly reside in modern, urban times. One of the film’s biggest strengths is how it vividly captures the madness of New York and its people. It’s a crazy world made hilarious when you insert a pair of clueless young women into it alongside hobos, pushy cab drivers and all the self-absorbed people who make up the metropolis. If you’re anything like me, there will be plenty guffaws to be had as these girls get lost, distracted and lost again. Situational humour doesn’t get much better than this, as they incredulously watch their bike get stolen, foolishly pay for $100 cab rides and many other shenanigans too good to spoil.

The amiable comedy on display is even more impressive considering this was the debut feature for so many involved. This includes writer-directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, as well as stars Clare McNulty and Bridey Elliott. The dialogue is sharp and witty, with enough melancholic quarter-life crisis lurking underneath to also hint at the directors’ potential for drama films. Likewise, McNulty and Elliott are two very promising actresses who we will surely see more of in the future.

As amusing as Fort Tilden is though, there’s a nagging feeling that it could have been funnier. With its brisk pacing, ace comic performers and crazy scenarios, it falls short of the classic screwball comedy it seems to promise. Still, it’s a strong debut that can hold its own among the best “New York” movies of recent years. As you try to beat the heat this summer, consider a mission to find Fort Tilden in a theater near you.

Fort Tilden releases in select theaters August 14, 2015.