Directed by: Lena Dunham (Creative Nonfiction)
Starring: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Jemima Kirke, David Call
I’m not sure how good a movie Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture is. Judged on the low-budget indie scale, the movie’s not bad, being an often intelligently drawn coming-of-age picture that one-ups the current mumblecore movement simply by virtue of using a script and a tripod. But at the same time, its appeal is extremely limited, extending no further than twenty-somethings with a penchant for arthouse fare. If you’re someone who finds distaste in witnessing the ennui of a young, affluent Manhattanite, or have a violent, teeth-gritting, Pavlovian response to the word “hipster,” then this isn’t your movie.
The film is written, directed and starred in by the 24-year-old Dunham, with the best and most obvious comparison to her film being “Woody Allen for the disaffected set,” like a less assured, less pointed version of Manhattan. While Dunham is no Allen, it’s obvious this is where the majority of her inspiration comes from (right down to a character who’s almost constantly reading a copy of Allen’s Without Feathers); unfortunately she doesn’t have near the style or the handle on—or maybe the desire for—plotting that Allen has.
The approach, however, is commendable, even if it doesn’t quite work all the time. Dunham too often feels the need to indulge in her characters’ ennui, while never having a tight grip on her film, which results in a lot of meandering around to no solid point and little pay-off, even though the film’s ambiguity does feel intentional.
The film is a do-it-yourself affair, with Dunham’s real-life mother and sister playing those characters respectively. The story centers on the aimlessness of post-college life, with Dunham playing Aura, a recent graduate who has just returned from college in Ohio to her home in Manhattan. The film attempts to be a humorous document of her complete lack of preparedness for adult life. Aura is in constant need of doting from her mother (Laurie Simmons) who wants no part in catering to her full-grown daughter especially in view that her younger sister (Grace Dunham), though only 17, already shows more promise and talent than Aura, leaving Aura unable to fill any role in her family besides the whiny oldest sister.
The most telling relationships occur between Aura and her childhood best friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) and her co-worker Keith (David Call, Did You Hear About the Morgans?) toward whom she has romantic inclinations. When we’re first told about Charlotte, it’s explained that she’s a bit unbalanced, but we find out by the end of the film that her simple need for friendship is much more understandable than Aura’s arrested development. Aura’s immaturity also crops up in her dealings with Keith, and when she’s finally—and none too surprisingly—taken advantage of by him, it’s something anyone with common sense can see coming except her.
For those with an inclination and a sympathy toward the subject matter, Tiny Furniture may prove to be worthwhile. Just be warned, it’s definitely not a film for everyone’s tastes. Not Rated.