“This is tediously adorable.” It’s the very sentence that encapsulates how most people view the lives of mid to late twenty-somethings, particularly those of the white girl variety living in Brooklyn. With this in mind, your end-of-the-summer wakeup call, Fort Tilden, co-directed and co-written by Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, offers a simple enough premise: two best friends, Allie (Claire McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliot), try to get to the beach after encountering Russ (Jeffrey Scaperrotta), “the hot one,” and his friend, Sam (Griffin Newman), at a party thrown by twins named Naomi and Leia (Phoebe and Claire Tyers, who provide a large portion of the film’s 80s-drenched soundtrack). But getting there isn’t quite as simple as they anticipated, made evidently clear from the moment they leave their apartment the next day.
The first obstacle to leaving for Allie, who has cancelled her plans to see her Peace Corps advisor regarding her upcoming trip to Liberia (a place everyone urges her against), is to get Harper to wake up in a timely fashion and to find a second bike for her to ride. She turns, reluctantly, to their upstairs neighbor Ebb (Neil Casey), a gross, overly talkative sort who agrees to lend it to her even though she has yet to return his blender. Allie’s irritation over Harper’s friendliness toward the potential subletter who comes to see the apartment (thereby finally waking her up) subsides when they, at long last, get out the door. But the adventure can’t quite begin as Harper is distracted by the sight of a barrel she wants to repurpose as an umbrella holder. Assuming that the man who happens to be sitting next to it is the seller (it is Williamsburg, after all), she offers two hundred dollars for it (“This sells at ABC for $500,” she tells Allie). The man aloofly takes her check–she pays for everything with check–and smiles to himself.
And so, after lugging the barrel to the foot of their stairwell, the duo is off and running. Their first snafu on the road occurs in Cobble Hill when Allie, who pumped her bike tire using a YouTube tutorial from a child, crashes into a mother (played by Orange Is the New Black‘s Alysia Reiner) carrying a baby. Soon, all hell is breaking loose as a crowd of angered passersby intervene and try to get the police involved. Harper, the more openly bitchy of the two, gets Allie to bike away as one of the men shouts, “The millennials are fucked!”
Their next stop is Prospect Park, where they plan to obtain the molly promised to Russ and Sam from Harper’s occasional fuck partner, Benji (Peter Vack), who, for whatever reason, is hanging out with a coterie of gay men when Allie and Harper find them. Benji takes Harper to the side to give her the goods, and it soon becomes clear that their hate-like of one another is fairly intense. After Allie engages in some awkward conversation with the three gay men, who, again, urge her against going to Liberia, Allie shouts to Harper that they should leave. With the molly obtained, they’re off to their next stop, getting iced coffee from a bodega near Flatbush Avenue. The attempt proves futile not only as a result of a communication barrier, but because of the owner’s interpretation of the request being to simply dump some ice into the coffee. Horrified, Harper pays with a check and they promptly throw the coffee away outside.
The next snag occurs when Harper is lured by a cheap clothing store and Allie pretends to lock the bikes up out front to follow her in (she forgot the key to the lock at home). Momentarily elated by the low price points and fairly high quality, the fun stops when Allie notices an Asian boy eyeing their bikes. As though paralyzed, they speculate on whether or not he’s going to take one until, finally, he does. The woman behind them balks, “I just watched you watch that boy steal your bike.”
Freaked out by the “kind of ghetto” neighborhood they’re in, Harper tries to call her dad for help (he’s the one who supports her “artist” lifestyle). He says to call him back if she hasn’t figured it out in an hour, thereby prompting Allie to remember that some friends she knew from when she was planning to complete the Teach for America program live in the area. Amanda (Becky Yamamoto) and Marin (Desireé Nash) are loathed by Harper–to her, “They’re just Minnie Mouse rats with makeup on”–and vice versa, but Harper is cajoled into going to their apartment upon Allie’s mention that they have a car. The tension in the room is palpable as Harper and Allie sit and listen to what types of macarons Amanda is offering and Marin tells Harper to keep things in their place. Allie takes the opportunity to ask Marin if they can borrow the car while Harper’s in the bathroom, a proposition Marin is only willing to accept if she accompanies them with Amanda on the journey. And so, by the time Harper comes out of the bathroom, the others are ready to head out the door. Alas, Marin has a panic attack once they get outside and Allie asks for the number of a “reliable” car service.
When Allie gives a dubious description of the location they’re at for the driver to pick them up, she’s assured, “Five minutes.” Thirty minutes later, an Indian driver in a luxury SUV drives up and tells them it’s going to cost a hundred dollars to get there. With no other choice but to accept his offer, they get in the car. Allie, flustered by caffeine withdrawal and Harper’s treatment of her friends, unloads on Harper by yelling, “When you talk all that shit about, like, Marin and Amanda, it makes me feel like you’re saying those things about me. It makes me feel like, you’re, like, embarrassed of me.” To compound Allie’s stress level, Cabiria, the Peace Corps woman keeps texting her about sending the info she needs. Allie continues to grow more fearful that she’s going to find out that she lied about being sick to go to the beach and tosses her phone aside. Harper then takes the phone and texts Cabiria back with, “Please respect that I am sick. This is harassment.” Rather than allaying Allie’s worries, it only makes her more upset and she insists on having a quiet car ride on the way there. But Harper can’t leave well enough alone and starts chatting up the driver, soon revealing that her father works for a company in India called Riess Culpepper. The name immediately causes the driver to bristle, stop the car and tell them to get out. Apparently, Harper’s father is “a criminal” in his eyes. Harper’s strong and hurt reaction to the accusation about her father allows added insight into her seemingly rough and uncaring exterior, clearly brought on by a life of lacking any true connection to her patriarch other than money.
And so, they’re left to walk the remainder of the journey. Along the way, they pick up three abandoned kittens, wearing them around their necks at the height of the discord that’s been building between them. But it isn’t that they have a problem with each other, not really. Their true issue lies within themselves and the dissatisfaction of trying to get started in the world; it’s as though they feel behind on making their mark–a point further driven home by the discovery that the guys they’ve been chasing down all day not only have prior love interests (who are also present on the beach), but they’re also still in high school. “I guess I can’t tell how old teenagers are anymore,” notes Harper sadly after she tries to have sex with Russ in the water, as though lamenting that she’s too old to be able to see what youths look like now.
And so the finer point of Fort Tilden isn’t about the girls’ lost chance at love or sex, but the feeling that there is something both are searching for that can’t really be found. It’s in the way that Harper asks her father, “But how did you do things at my age? How did you get your life to move?” These are the questions that seem to be plaguing millennials (that odious word) as they continue to grow older yet still have trouble resigning themselves to what their place in the world is. On the plus side, at least we have Fort Tilden to let us know in its drily comical way that we’re not alone in this sentiment.