A few weeks ago, we received a press release for a film called Fort Tilden, a "comedy" set to debut at SXSW. Wading through an avalanche of cringe-inducing press releases is one of the drags of the job, but this one caught our attention when we realized our teeth were grinding audibly and blood was trickling from the corners of our eyes. The premise, it said, follows two Williamsburg-based 20-somethings struggling to get to the beach, coping with "creepy neighbors, unpredictable traffic patterns, indignant cabbies, and each other." Was it ironic? Tongue-in-cheek? Or just hideously stupid? We couldn't tell. We couldn't look away. Here's an excerpt, which has it all:
"In the midst of their respective quarter-life crises, Allie (Clare McNulty) struggles to prepare for the Peace Corps, while Harper (Bridey Elliott) awaits checks from her father to fund her artistic dreams. But the two friends quickly shun responsibilities for the day when a pair of cute guys invite them along for a carefree Fort Tilden afternoon."
Oh Harper! So valiantly do you eschew the weight of your burden, sweating in your romper while you await the day's mail. (Is this a period piece, set in the early '90s before direct deposit? And Peace Corps? Everyone knows today's millennials prefer the far less committal WWOOFing.) How much can one fragile soul withstand? I should have quit with the press release, but the promise of a nice Sunday morning hate-watch was too seductive to pass up. What a mistake that was.
Allie and Harper's, um, journey starts out innocuously enough—the opening scenes feature the two mocking their friends' rooftop guitar performance via vitriolic texts, bandied between their cell phones as the the two sit wordlessly beside each other. But any initial sense of warmth or camaraderie between them (and the viewer) dissipates in the coming minutes. Their interminable journey to the beach swiftly reveals both characters for what they are: Helpless, whiny asshats, their indignation perpetual and their pouty lips curled into permanent moues of either rage or disgust. The film is around 1.5 hours—the mouths of both Harper and Allie spend the entire time rankled.
The two broadly-drawn main caricatures represent all the manufactured Willamsburg tropes: From their matching sunglasses to their tacit agreement to pay $200 for an "artisanal barrel" that's actually just a fucking old barrel that probably has a desiccated squirrel face at the bottom. We've seen these cliches; we could all write them in our sleep. Brooklyn: A rugged factory-scape populated entirely by men in small hats and latte-drinking babies. "Her first word was 'Basquiat,'" says the beaming mother, adjusting the child's Warby Parker pince-nez. Can't we move on from these played-out parodies? No, because the widespread success of Girls has helped create a hall of mirrors in which it's hard to tell where the parody ends and real life begins.
Allie and Harper might be novel, clever characters in bumfuck Maryland. But here's what's troubling: take a stroll down the kombucha aisle of Brooklyn Natural, and you'll find a whole swarm of Allies and Harpers, and maybe even a Maeve or a Jasper. The parody of hipster culture—perfected by Portlandia—has eaten itself and is now self-replicating. What was once a joke is now lost in inscrutable thickets of irony. Is that guy in the pleated stonewashed jeans and feathers reading Infinite Jest during a noisecore show at Shea Stadium commenting on scenester pretension, or has he become it? Does he even know anymore?
Whether it's parody or ironic self-parody or post-parody, many of us work hard to avoid this contingent of Brooklyn every day, but it's even spread to Queens, where Fort Tilden actually is located, by the way. And if we're to watch Fort Tilden drown in hipster cliches on film, an additional something must be brought to the table. Witty repartee would be an appropriate starting place, but I'd take a twist ending, or even a cleverly placed goat head. Fort Tilden offers nothing. The nagging desire to throttle both characters is unabating until the end.
With that, let's consider some of the things you could do in the 1.5 hours it would take you to watch Fort Tilden.
1) Update your iPhone
2) Commit apostasy
2) Craft six truly hilarious tweets
3) Gain a rudimentary understanding of cricket
4) Start a car fire
5) Drown a litter of kittens. (Which, by the way, they do in the film.)
6) Watch 83 percent of 12 Years A Slave
7) Write and publish a 'Why I'm Leaving New York' essay for Thought Catalog.
8) Cultivate a perfectly raked tabletop zen garden, ensuring that not a grain of sand escapes its assigned concentric ring (1 hour, 29 minutes, 36 seconds). Smash the garden with your closed fist. (24 seconds.)
9) File for divorce
10) Go to Jones Beach
At SXSW, Fort Tilden took home grand jury award for best narrative film, Artsbeat reports. The festival's other big winner was called The Great Invisible, a documentary about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. None of us will see that, though—not when there's a new Girls episode on.