There are two undeniable conclusions which can be made after watching Tiny Furniture. The first will be that twenty-six year old director, screenwriter and actor Lena Dunham is fearless in her pursuit to normalize the female body on screen (specifically her body). The second is that being the child of a successful New York artist probably has its cons, especially when you’re not fazed by its exclusive, alluring world. A uniquely crafted and darling indie film, Dunham’s second feature debuted in late 2010 at SXSW, winning the award for Best Narrative Feature. In early 2011, it won Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards, yet my recent discovery of the film was due to its release on the renowned Criterion label earlier this month. It’s a hybrid of existential boredom a la Lost in Translation with the urban wit of a Noah Baumbach script. It’s arthouse – but accessible arthouse, that is dialogue driven and emotionally (and comedically) effective. Loosely associated with the immerging Mumblecore movement that is defined through non-actors playing out twenty-something strife, Dunham plays the lead and casts her real mother and sister in the respective roles with success. Of course it also helps when your mother is already the successful New York artist Laurie Simmons, and you were raised as a child of the lower-east side liberal avant-garde. Dunham knows this world, and presents it through the case of Aura a recent Film Studies graduate who finds herself amidst the scariest part of her twenties, the stage between student life and real life.
While most college grads pack up their dorm room belongings along with their dreams of success in the big city, Aura’s return home is the opposite. Her ‘post graduate delirium’ begins with her homecoming from stable Midwest Ohio to the slightly unconventional, minimalist Tribeca loft of mother Siri (Laurie Simmons). With no sense of self, no space to call her own and no close friends, Aura faces a second inception into adulthood. Yet, the why me, what now, and how can I make it happen set of dilemmas may be too much for this down-to-earth character to handle as she struggles with being a child of privilege and a propensity to be useful.
As is often the case, the trailer for Tiny Furniture misrepresents the film. It presents it as a sort of romantic comedy, yet in actuality the film is the antithesis of romance. Aura is surrounded by people who use each other with no consequence to the point where she becomes seduced by their flakey ways. There is a large distinction between a film set inNew York and a New York film. Dunham’s feature is the later in the sense that the story of Aura’s plight would not have been as convincing had it been transported to any other location. This is an unadorned New York story which excludes the grandeur of its skyline.
It’s tiny, but it’s real.