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#52filmsbywomen 1 – Fort Tilden

Posted on: February 7, 2016

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No. 1 – Fort Tilden (Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, 2015)

My first #52filmbywomen viewing came unintentionally, which is pleasing. I watched Fort Tilden last week, and only today when I went back, I saw it was co-directed by a woman, Sarah-Violet Bliss with Charles Rogers. Of course, there’s no way to tell a film has a female director. They bring no extra sensory nuance that male directors lack, nor do they shut down production five days each month to be swaddled in duvets with chocolate and the Meg Ryan back catalogue. There is no difference, except for the difference that exists between all directors of all backgrounds, which makes the lack of opportunity in the film industry even more egregious. Try telling Kathryn Bigelow or Michelle MacLaren that women can’t handle action sequences or political conflict, or Wes Anderson or Todd Haynes that men can’t handle visual beauty or emotional nuance.

Fort Tilden fits nicely into the 2010s movement of Young Female Disasters that has emerged post-Girls. Women are no longer awkward-but-honourable, overcoming insurmountable odds to gain respect and, usually, a man. Now, we have these beboobed idiots, flawed messes with misplaced but easily shaken confidence, bluffing their way through life, worried that they are going to be found out – in other words, human. Instead of virgin/whore/madonna, they are some combination of the three. Fort Tilden’s leads, Allie (Claire McNulty) and her spoiled roommate Harper (Bridey Elliot) walk this line as they wind their way from Brooklyn to the titular beach destination to meet up with boys from the previous night’s party, trailing chaos over themselves and everyone they encounter on the way.

The girls are compellingly awful in different ways. Harper is charming and arrogant in the way that only beautiful New Yorkers get away with. Her cool façade belies how her lifestyle as an alleged artist is funded by her rich but distant father, while she remains defiantly ignorant of his shady business practises in India. Her primary concern is why her ex-boyfriend has stopped sending dick pics, and whether this will prevent him from selling her Molly. Allie, nervy and subordinate, is preparing for a Peace Corps trip to Liberia, but frustrated that people are more concerned about how dangerous it is than how impressive her plans are. Not that it matters, since she has been procrastinating on essential travel documents, and spends the film avoiding her frustrated supervisor’s calls by feigning illness. The girls feed off each other, and neither wants to face the fact of their separation. Allie sulks when Harper invites another girl to view her soon-to-be empty room, while Harper frequently assures others that Allie won’t actually follow through with her plans. Harper goads Allie into skipping her responsibilities for a day of adventure, perhaps intentionally sabotaging her. Allie lets herself be talked into it, perhaps sabotaging herself.

Their friends, privileged and pretentious millennials to a man, treat Allie and Harper with either cloying insincerity or open hostility. Only they can truly tolerate each other, sending snarky texts throughout the grim party that opens the film, and half-heartedly defending the other from criticisms, even if they sort of agree. The girls clash with each other over which of the boys prefers them, and later, which of them is the bigger fraud, but ultimately they are hooked on each other, more willing to put up with the other’s bullshit than anyone else. Throughout the film, they drag each other through horrible events and let their humiliations be swiftly forgotten. Survival, with or without dignity, is imperative. In the end, they are safe in their conspiracy of silence – or mutual delusion. In the film’s most memorable scene, they stand in a shop queue as Allie’s bike get stolen, hypnotised by the unfolding theft, their detached commentary doing nothing to stop it happening. They are observers in their own lives. As the astonished woman in the queue behind them tells them, “I just watched you watch that boy steal your bike.” After that, they decide to abandon the other bike, borrowed from their upstairs neighbour, in an unfamiliar lot.

Some of the best friendships are built upon what two people are willing to leave unsaid. As women going nowhere, they are content to continue avoiding responsibility, so long as the other does the same. Harper and Allie may bring out the worst in each other, but they are stronger together. Allie avoids discussing Harper’s father after an unpleasant encounter gets them kicked out of a cab. Harper convinces Allie to run away rather than face a yuppie family’s fury after a near-miss with their pram and Allie’s bike. They both, shamefully, silently acknowledge and ignore the fate of the kittens they found and returned to an upright dustbin, just before a storm hits. By the end of the film, nothing has changed – they have no jobs, no boyfriends, and no Molly. They are stumbling through their haphazard lives, but they are not doing it alone, and for now, that is the most they are capable of. We should all be so lucky, but holy shit, do these girls deserve each other.

 

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