...I say "among" because I have not yet seen Alex Ross Perry's Queen Of Earth, which I have every reason to anticipate warmly. But good grief, the fellow's already got a retrospective at The Museum of the Moving Image coming up, and Queen itself is going to be screening at MOMA, and Perry's gonna do the voice of Winnie The Pooh for Disney or something*, so he hardly needs my help anymore.
Many of the accounts of Fort Tilden, I think, weight the film's sociological-observation side a trifle too heavily. Which is my fancy way of saying that you don't have to know any bitsy-whingey deeply shallow wannabe "creative" Williamsburg/Bushwick residents in order to "get" the movie or find its jokes funny.
In the tradition of day-trip pictures like this weekend's Grandma (which is also quite worth seeing; my review for RogerEbert.com is here), Greg Mottola's aptly-titled 1996 The Daytrippers, and, um, maybe Rudolph Maté's 1950 DOA, Fort Tilden features characters on a short-term mission that happens, in this case, to coincide with at least one Life Turning Point. Lanky and brown-haired Harper (Bridey Elliott) and her pint-sized blonde pal Allie (Clare McNulty) are two Williamsburg residents who have perhaps lived their variant of la vie boheme a little too long. Allie seems somewhat aware of this, but her proposed solution to this seems like swatting a fly with a bazooka: she's joining the Peace Corps. But on the day of her appointment with a placement officer, she decides to blow it off and trek with Harper to Fort Tilden, the outer-borough New York City beach beloved of contemporary hipsters and bros and such ("It's cool, you can just like, drink there without anyone bothering you," one of said bros observes of the locale). Various semi-catastrophes ensue, some predictable (the minute one of them fetches a bicycle, you just know the vehicle's not long for the movie), others not so much. And along the way the movie, very deftly directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, who also wrote the spectacularly zinger-rich script, skewers pretty much every social type clotting Millennial New York and gives that type a few turns in the rotisserie.
It's not quite satirical in that there's nothing lesson-like imparted. Despite Harper and Allie's ever- mounting casual callousness and cluelessness, the movie does manage to make them kind of poignant by the end, at least in a kind of "oh, dear" way. (Both performers are exceptionally engaging even at their characters' worst.) The women's self-delusions and integrity gaps are cogently summed up, inadvertently, when Allie observes of her Peace Corps placement officer, "She's a little bit...too real." While Lena Dunham's Hannah on Girls is a Protagonist With Problems—no matter how appalling her behavior might get, the viewer's still meant to have a rooting interest—Harper and Allie are Problem Protagonists, which is all fine, because what the movie finally is is a comedy, and a relentlessly hilarious one.
I first saw John Magary's The Mend last June at the BAM Cinemafest, and I'm quoting what I wrote back then because it still holds: "[The Mend] is not just a staggering debut feature, it’s a staggering movie full stop. The scenario setup might seem on the conventional side: One seeming hellion of a brother (Mat, played by Josh Lucas with what one might call phlegmatic commitment, among other things) reconnects with the other attempting-to-be-a-normal-person-in-Upper-Manhattan brother (Alan, an excellently often-recessive Stephen Plunkett). But that’s the only thing conventional about it. Writer/director John Magary opens with an arresting iris-out opening image that recalls Arnaud Desplechin, and the movie, like many of Desplechin's, has a deliriously packed feel. Content arrives in the form of dialogue, inflection, eye movement, camera movement, cutting, lighting, music, sometimes all at once, but nothing’s ever on-the-nose; seldom does a shot or a sequence resolve on a consonant note. But Magary’s in full control of his dissonance. The movie is never not profanely hilarious, but it’s also almost nerve-wrackingly tense throughout. The movie’s opening is a good example of how Magary confounds standard film grammar, cutting from a down-and-dirty seduction scene to a screeching shit fit in which the seducee banishes the seducer, without depicting the precipitating act. In the hands of a less assured filmmaker this kind of ellipsis can seem affected, but Magary makes you like it, as he does the long, alternately mortifying, titillating, and immersive party scene that follows. The movie’s side-steps into genuine surrealism, largely centered around a dodgy power situation in Alan’s apartment, are also consistently exhilarating. I should make a disclosure here that Magary is a cordial acquaintance who’s been a longtime commenter on this blog, so I came to The Mend with some good feelings and high hopes."
I saw the picture for a second time earlier this week with My Lovely Wife, and her occasional gasps and starts-in-her-seat brought home how powerful and powerfully affecting and sometimes raw a comedy The Mend really is. After the screening, she commented on its richness; the movie, she observed, has a lot of "treats," incidental details that pay off later on, or character notes that develop in unexpected ways when you're least expecting them to, and so on. It's a simultaneously tough and blithe movie about damaged people. Check it out.
* I kid, I kid. I don't want to roil any sensitive artists, I'm just joking, honest; Good Alex is in fact employed to write a Winnie The Pooh movie.