'Fort Tilden' Stars Bridey Elliott & Clare McNulty Talk Feminism In Film & Why Their Movie Is Nothing Like 'Girls'

One of the most controversial movies of the summer stars a pair of Brooklynite millennial women with no money (except for parent-written checks), no "real" jobs (except for their "art"), and no idea who they are or what they're supposed to be doing (except for "figuring it all out"). So basically, just a big-screen version of Girls, right? Actually, not even close — and if you ask the stars of Fort Tilden , Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty, what they think about the automatic comparison, their answer takes the form of an eye-roll and a shake of the head.

"We’ve gotten reviews where the first line is like, 'obviously inspired by Girls," says Elliott, who plays Harper, an artist subsisting on handouts from her CEO father. "Well, no. Just because you found one voice that you can make money off of, doesn’t mean —"

"— We’re all trying to do that," finishes McNulty, aka Allie, a perennial wanderer whose next move is the Peace Corps.

The similarities between Fort Tilden and Girls, at least at the surface level, are undeniable — but as the actresses argue, they're just not relevant.

"It’s a nice thing to be compared to those shows, because they’re great shows," says McNulty. But, she says, "I’d like to think of it as being part of a canon of stories about women... an exploration of something that's really relevant."

Which is: feeling lost, feeling confused, feeling behind your peers and like you're doing everything wrong, even as you hold out a perhaps unrealistic hope that everything will work out just fine. It's a state of being that'll likely feel real to many of the film's viewers, whether they're twenty-something New Yorkers like Harper and Allie or just remembering that age and time all too well.

"A lot of things felt very familiar," says McNulty. "I’ve had that total disconnect about what my future might look like — just having no clue and all of the opportunity in the world and just not knowing how to move forward."

Adds Elliott, "You’re just trying. You’re just trying to get opportunities, but you don’t always have something to give people."

Fort Tilden is far from the first film to tackle post-college frustrations, but what sets it apart from the others is how it doesn't forgive its characters when they fail to live up to their own expectations, or the viewer's. Harper and Allie aren't insufferable, but they are annoying, inconsiderate, and sometimes excruciatingly naive. In one scene, they willingly pay $100 for a cab to take them two miles; in another, they watch, open-mouthed, as their bike, 20 feet away, is stolen. Watching them make these mistakes, over and over again, is hard — but it's even more difficult to look away, because to many, their antics, however maddening, often ring scarily true.

"I was thinking about how anticlimactic it was to actually show it in New York," says Elliott, "because I felt there was a little bit of an arms crossed, 'this isn’t me and my friends,' [attitude]."

But, she adds with a laugh, "Those are the people who are those characters."

Both actresses have been surprised by the intensity of the reactions viewers of the movie have had. In its review, Variety called the film everything from "ruthless" to a "sociopathic Romy and Michele;" The Hollywood Reporter highlighted Fort Tilden's "wicked strain of equal-opportunity awfulness;" speaking to the stars, I told them how I wasn't quite sure how I felt about the movie, but I knew I hadn't been able to stop thinking about it for days.

"I don’t think I realized how much it would impact me until I saw it," says McNulty, adding that having focused so much on the movie's comedy when filming, she didn't catch all of the deeper meaning it contained. Elliott agrees, saying that she was "blinded" by Fort Tilden's humor; it took until the film's screening at South by Southwest last year for the movie to truly feel "emotional."

Says Elliott, "I empathize with them, and really saw myself in a lot of the anxiety, and the want to have an identity."

The actresses' compassion for their characters is interesting, as much of the response to the movie has been focused on Harper and Allie's difficult nature. Yet both stars have trouble labeling them as simply "unlikable."

"I see comedies with guys who are disgusting, and there’s no, 'how can you like this person?'" says Elliott. "There’s none of that. So there’s something inherently sexist about it, just that it’s even a question. 'Oh, I can’t watch them because I don’t like them.' It’s just weird."

Neither actress denies that their characters are hard to take, but believe that it'd be wrong to dismiss them because of that.

Says McNulty, "The things that they say sometimes are so intense, and the things that they do are so crazy. Going through the entire rigorous process of preparing for the Peace Corps and not going — that’s a pretty crazy thing to do. But finding the truth in that was our job."

In a culture where women make up just 30% of all speaking characters in movies, it's rare to see such fully-formed, realistically flawed women on-screen, especially in a film with a subject matter of female friendship.

"I remember reading it and thinking how lucky are we that we get to play these complex characters," says McNulty, noting how different the role of Allie was than the parts typically offered to young actresses.

Adds Elliott, "We're really, really lucky to have that opportunity, because it shows us as people... we’re in a very exciting time for women and film — we’re just at the beginning of it right now."

And Fort Tilden is leading the way. Check out the movie's trailer below, and watch it in select theaters and On Demand on Aug. 14:

Orion Pictures on YouTube

Images: Orion Pictures (4)