“The millenials are fucked,” a man shouts in “Fort Tilden” just after one of the two main characters runs into his daughter’s stroller on her bike, a slow-speed accident that rocks the cradle in more ways than one. Such collisions are commonplace in Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ feature debut, not usually involving small children unless you count Harper (Bridey Elliott) and Allie (Clare McNulty), the pair of Brooklynites who spend a harried day trying to get from their Williamsburg loft to Rockaway Beach shortly before Allie is expected to join the Peace Corps and travel to Liberia.
Although there is no shortage of people to tell Allie that she’s headed to the worst place on earth, you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s already there, given Bliss and Rogers’ skewering of the borough. While at first, “Fort Tilden” plays as an evisceration of hipster culture clearly done out of love by people who’ve lived it, it eventually finds its way as its heroines don’t, unlike the duo, avoiding the path of least resistance to get to something of genuine substance.
It’s clear from the very first frames of the film that Bliss and Rogers are talented, using the backdrop of a dreadful rooftop concert featuring folk-singing identical twins to introduce Harper and Allie through a riotously funny silent texting chat. Not only does the exchange about who’s sleeping with who around them in the sea of hipsters around them and considering more torturous options than listening to the twins, it establishes the brunette Harper as the more assertive and entitled of the pair while the blond Allie seems more content to go with the flow. But with Allie’s impending move to West Africa in a bid to see a bit more of the world beyond the Williamsburg bubble, Harper’s alpha lifestyle is threatened with the potential loss of her friend, adding a tension to the next 24 hours in which they get lost in – gasp – “deep Brooklyn” when trying to meet up with a pair of boys they like.
Confronted with people who work for a living and have concerns greater than themselves, the two may be delighted by the discovery of $3.99 dress shops with totes ironic apparel and weathered barrels that would look nice as furniture in their living room. However, ordering an iced coffee at a Mexican bodega presents an insurmountable challenge as does properly locking up the bicycles they ride into town with.
Neither Elliott nor McNulty play their characters as ditzes or mean girls, instead bringing out the best in Bliss and Rogers’ nonsequitur-packed script with a straight face and an easy chemistry together. Yet where the two earn their keep is in the film’s back half when “Fort Tilden” takes an unexpected turn when the day’s frustrations finally catch up with them and the duo is exposed in any number of ways. Forced to contemplate the respect they have for others as well as for themselves at the geezerly old age of 25, neither shrink from the moment and the result is truly special.
It’s at that moment one realizes “Fort Tilden” is as fearless in its resolve to find the truth as it is in its humor, making Bliss and Rogers two of the most exciting filmmakers yet to emerge from this year’s SXSW. The film may make a great case why the shouting man might not be wrong, but it also suggests these kids are alright.
“Fort Tilden” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play twice more at SXSW on Sunday, March 9th at the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center at 4:15 pm and March 14th at the Stateside Theatre at 1:30 pm.