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A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn't really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she's not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possibility dwindles.
A slew of characters that make you ask "why bother?"
The characters in Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture are the kind that mistake the phrase "eight grade crying" for "integrated grinding," used in the context of describing a local dance. They are the kind of people who seem to have quite a bit to be thankful for - very nice homes/apartments, possessions that make people envious, lovely outfits, and more - but scarcely seem to recognize that and just go ahead and direct their attention to the first problem on their mind; one in particular is quoted that another spends a day "watching Rachel Maddow, eating coconut-macaroons and laying on a heating pad." They are also the kind of people who hit their friend with a wooden spoon in what seems to be a playful manner when they are legitimately angry at that same person. These are likely some of the most eclectic people ever committed to film.
But Dunham commits them and drags them along in a tired and often boring array of archetypal, indie-situational comedy that never seems to be interesting enough to become invested in or relatable or believable enough to take seriously on a personal level. I almost feel that the people who look up to this film now - post-college kids and twentysomethings trying to latch on to a specific direction in life - will look back on this film in maybe twenty years and smirk and perhaps hide their face at the characters' naivete and almost disturbingly ungrateful attitude.
The film is centered around Aura (Lena Dunham), who returns home from her liberal arts college to her mother's loft, which serves as her studio for her art. Aura majored in film studies and has no particular direction in life, and is caught in the middle of two men while trying to find motivation to even get up in the morning. The two men are pretty basic caricatures, much like herself - Jed (Alex Karpovsky), who has achieved moderate internet fame thanks to his Youtube videos and Keith (David Call), who works at the same restaurant Aura does.
Right off the bat, these characters seem to be nothing more than vessels spewing cute phrases that are a cross between directionless collegiate talk and a product of screen writing quirkiness. Despite Dunham approaching this topic with the mindset to capture this point in people's lives with a sense of authenticity. But just like that, everybody here feels inauthentic and quirky to the point of being barely able to function. Everything, from their moments to their speech to their speech-patterns, seems to be meticulously laid out and almost robotic, so as nothing is natural and almost exists as this artificial dream world.
Consider the scene where Aura and Jed have sex in a thin, tight metal pipe in the middle of the street in what is one of the most awkward and damning scenes I've seen in a while. There's no particular wit or humor in a scene like this. It's only awkward and serves as yet another moment when Dunham seems to be concocting a long line of eccentric events in the film for the sole purpose of having eccentric events take place.
Then there are scenes like the one where Aura throws an all out temper-tantrum at her mother in a scene that is nothing but whiny in tone and only adds to the unlikability of its characters. This scene, however, is still a bold act on Dunham's behalf because she's unafraid to show her characters in two separate lights, or even make a stern note of the distasteful acts she commits. Yet by the time we start seeing this unlikable side to the characters, Tiny Furniture hasn't given us much to really like or appreciate about the characters, so by the time these aspects are introduced there's nothing for us to remind ourselves that these characters are somewhat decent people.
I suppose by definition of technicalities, Tiny Furniture is considered a mumblecore film, for it has a heavy focus/attachment to its characters, makes an attempt at naturalistic dialog (by Dunham's definition not mine), and rather low-budget production values that use color as a way of disguising their cheapness. Dunham and another mumblecore filmmaker I have a great fondness for, Joe Swanberg, seem to do a lot of similar things from infusing their films with the likes of uniquely characters to focusing sights on their sexual adventures; the difficulty is stating why one does it better than the other. Maybe it's because Swanberg's approach seems to be catering to a wider demographic where you don't need to be a part of the characters' specific group in order to like or understand them. In Tiny Furniture, it seems the only way to have any kind of positive feeling towards these characters is if you have similar circumstances to them and, with the way Dunham has drawn these vapid and often contemptible people, I doubt a great many people have.
Certain parts of Tiny Furniture work - the framing is top-notch and tightly-formatted, giving the sense we know exactly what Dunham wants to include and exclude in the shot and, on occasion, Dunham stages some strong monologues. Regardless of how I feel about Tiny Furniture, there's little denying that Lena Dunham will be a central figure to monitor with the popularity of indie film along with her HBO show Girls. Like it or not, Dunham has now been billed as "a voice of her generation" so much now that she (a) knows it and (b) will continue to produce films that stay true to her specific style. How you'll feel about this statement will differ. I just believe I'm stating a fact.
Starring: Lena Dunham, Alex Karpovsky, and David Call. Directed by: Lena Dunham.
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