FORT TILDEN (2015) (A-minus) - "This is tediously adorable." That's the final line delivered by one of the two aimless 25-year-old women, acidicly passive-aggressive roommates who decide to take a day off from doing nothing in order to trek through Brooklyn on their way to a beach in Roackaway.
Their adventure becomes a hellish odyssey -- well, relatively so, to these pampered Williamsburg brats. The alpha female, Harper (Bridey Elliott), holds herself out as an artist, even though she has no discernible talent or work ethic to support her claim. Allie (Clare McNulty) is the neurotic sidekick who is blowing off the final preparations for her Peace Corps mission in order to spend a day at the beach (or trying to get there). In the privileged world these gals circulate in, everyone reacts in horror at the news that Allie is headed to (gasp) Liberia, believed to be the home of human-flesh traffickers.
These two peddle snark 24/7, encased in a bubble big enough for them to bump into the gang from HBO's "Girls." Not that the dynamic overlaps that much with Lena Dunham's smart but precious show. This buddy road-trip movie has more of a stoner vibe (or Molly, to be precise), and the banter between Harper and Allie, with its putdowns and dick references, has echoes of Beavis and Butt-head, a couple of hapless dopes oblivious to the real world zipping all around them. Their frustrating expedition also borrows a bit from "The Out of Towners," a couple stymied at every turn while trying to navigate New York City.
Elliott (another comic daughter of Letterman sidekick Chris Elliott) is bitter and droll as Harper, cajoling another cash infusion out of her globe-trotting dad during a speakerphone conversation while she shaves her pubes for bikini purposes. She pays for everything with personal checks, as if handing out Monopoly money. McNulty, also a relative newcomer, holds this all together with a brilliant turn as a pent-up ball of emotions -- boy crazy, resentful of her "friend," confused about her future. McNulty comes off like a funnier Jane Krakowski with Gene Wilder's sensibilities and gravitas. She's a revelation.
As the day progresses, the gals wander off the beaten path, further and further out of their element. They are as unprepared for the outside world as baby birds newly kicked out of the nest. Or abandoned kittens. Lost trying to finding the beach, the girls find three kittens and instantly recognize the responsibility to make the precious lives safe. But the kittens soon become props, after-thoughts during an epic argument between Harper and Allie, who finally leave the kittens in a garbage can, cushioned by those thrift-store throwaways fashioned as a bed on the bottom. Will the cats survive? Will Harper and Allie?
They are so easily distracted. "Oh, my god," Harper blurts out as she veers from the bike lane. "That top!" They gawk at the outrageously cut-rate prices at a "ghetto" thrift store and hold up ugly clothes for the other's opinion. Allie waves a blouse and asks, "Is this Southwest hipster or meth head?" Before leaving Brooklyn they must stop in the park to score drugs from Benji, who has slept with Harper (and gifts her with dick pics) but also surrounds himself with a trio of fawning gay admirers, whose chatter is painfully funny. Among the many strong supporting actors are Desiree Nash and Becky Yamamoto as the prissy roommates Marin and Amanda,
Our heroines are on a mission to meet up with a couple of dudes they met at a rooftop party where a cloying pair of twins entertained with their twee folkie ditties (which bookend the movie). The gals' cluelessness will manifest itself in the final reel when they find out the true reason the boys are so available.
By the end of the film it gets tougher and tougher for Harper and Allie to keep pretending that they're not failures. That final 20 minutes gets a bit sloppy, but Elliott and McNulty (who must have worked hard workshopping these characters and scenarios) have the depth to conjure some real emotions without careering into pathos.
Writer-directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers keep this all believable and under control. They have a fine sense of pace and an ear for pretentious dialogue. Their digital images feature bright, sharp tones and a documentary feel for New York's nooks and crannies. When they finally arrive at the beach, you can taste the salt water.
This is a hidden gem. More of my favorite moments:
* Harper and Allie skip the morning bagels so they'll be able to "roll up" to the beach later in their "morning tummies."
* Allie calls up a child's YouTube to learn how to pump air into a bike tire.
* Harper checks with Allie: "People don't cash checks the same time they get them, right? That's not a thing."
* Getting the apartment "sex ready" (in case they bring home dates at the end of the day) involves spraying air freshener and laying out a copy of Infinite Jest.
* The suffer a quick false start on their trip, because down the street from their apartment sits a wooden barrel that they just must have (for, you know, plants, or umbrellas). After rolling it into their foyer, they express worry about bed bugs and a need to buy more umbrellas.
* Riding their bikes the wrong way down a one-way street, they dink a baby carriage, and the Gen X parents dissolve into hysterics over their precious offspring, as the girls flee the scene.
* Snooty Marin warns her guests that her calendar is a bit full: "We have to go get butter ... before it gets dark."
* Calling a car service from the "ghetto" Allie pinpoints their location as "Flatbush and some street that was renamed in honor of a few fallen firefighters whose names I can't pronounce."
* Unable to flag down a cap in "deep Brooklyn," Harper wonders, "Isn't this, like, where cabdrivers live?!"
Your mileage may vary. But "Fort Tilden" (that's the beach they are heading for) revels in the sarcasm of an entitled, throwaway generation with sharp humor and insight. This is a group to watch.