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TINY FURNITURE should be commended - a young filmmaker uses her mom's loft and her actual mom and sister to play her mom and sister - shoots it on a HD video camera for about 50k and becomes an Indie Film darling! That is amazing and I love hearing stories like this. Dunham is very talented and there are great scenes in this movie but the rave reviews are waaaaay over the top. Slow down. The film just meanders - it starts to repeat itself and I found the ending lacking. I do not need everything all tied up in a bow for me and I love films that just mosey a long (Stranger in Paradise, etc.) but after awhile - the film does just seem like a bunch of scenes stitched together without any payoff of any kind. I get that many young people will totally relate with the story of a college graduate having no idea what to do with her life and Dunham is perfect in the role - in fact, it was refreshing to see a woman as a lead who looks like her - she is dumpy with thick legs, a big butt and she walks around a lot of the movie pantless - which is great - that's how a lot of people walk around in the privacy of their own home. I'm glad to hear this indie has led to a bunch of other projects for her - congrats. I hope she learns how to write a better story next time. (Oh - and the girl who plays her crazy friend Charlotte is absolutely terrific!!)
Certainly this film will not be everyone's cup of tea. But I'm a sucker for movies that are light on plot and heavy on letting us just hang out with some interesting characters for awhile. The dialogue here is so natural I thought perhaps they were simply ad libbing. The chemistry between the mother and daughters is totally real (makes sense -- they are a real family), and the film perfectly captures the that feeling of lacking any direction following graduation from college. It's true that nothing much happens in the film -- it's more about the nature of relationships: renewing old ones, letting friends go, trying out new lovers, choosing the wrong people -- all while trying to figure out what it means to be an adult.
We live in a DIY culture, where filmmakers graduate from fancy-shmancy schools and think they can just make a film about themselves and call it art. Exhibit A (or Exhibit Gazillion): Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture (2010). A glorified home movie. Tiny Furniture tells the story of recent college grad, Aura (Lena Dunham, who also wrote and directed the film), who must deal with the transition from alternative, lazy student to an actual full-grown woman. Post- grad confusion constantly pedals itself across independent cinema, and frankly, I'm sick of it. The narrative is rather dull, but this isn't anything out of the ordinary for mumblecore. However, I do admire Lena Dunham and her character as Aura (where she is essentially playing herself). She may not be anything special, but she's real. She's accuratenaïve, narcissistic, and completely disoriented. Ultimately, I think that's why this film (amongst other post-grad films) is so successful. It's built for a certain demographicpost-grad losers. They (We) find these movies comforting because the lost characters are just like them (us). I'm not going to say I didn't enjoy this movie, but I probably wouldn't have hadn't I found it extremely relatable to my current lifestyle. Hopefully, this film will work as a serious reality-check for those of us graduating soon. I don't want to be Aura. That's for sure. Aside from its tired plot, Lena Dunham actually has a great visual eye and hopefully this will reflect in her future work, when she isn't delving into self-exploitation any longer.
An interesting aspect of young Lena Dunham's feature is that some of
the most favorable reviews and interviews never mention the word
"Mumblecore." There has to be a reason for that. If Tiny Furniture is
annoying, it may be because it's smoother than most Mumblecore movies
and that only brings out the laziness, the unambitious
self-satisfaction of the genre/school/orientation of the young educated
white Americans who've turned on their digital cameras and gained
encouragement, or been called cool, for their DIY efforts to make
feature films about themselves, which is to say, about nothing much.
Tiny Furniture is Mumblecore that's suave enough to make you wonder why
there isn't more to it. The clumsiness of other work of this generation
makes one think there's something (maybe just raw "reality") behind it.
Polish and self-possession in this director makes one suspect "reality"
isn't all that interesting sometimes. Would anybody but film students
and a tiny demographic find solace or food for thought in this picture?
Tiny Furniture's protagonist, Lena herself, has just finished college
and returns to the (admittedly somewhat chilly) "womb" of her highly
successful mom's and self-confident teenage sister's big, all-white,
hi-tech Tribeca loft. Dunham may be called Aura in the film instead of
Lena (a name NY Times critic Manohla Dargis weaves a fancy
critical-theory explanation for), but -- what is mildly unusual, but
not very -- the filmmaker/actress managed to cast her own successful
artist mother Laurie Simmons as Aura's mom and and her self-confident
sister Grace Dunham as Aura's sister Nadine, and set much of the action
in her mom's actual home. Not too much of a stretch there. Aura gets a
job as a hostess at a restaurant around the corner and consorts with
two freeloader would-be boyfriends: Keith (David Call), a sou-chef who
cadges drugs off her and has sex with her in a pipe, and Jed (Alex
Karpofsky, a Mumblecore regular, here an cutesy YouTuber and
insufferable person) who only wants a place to sleep, and gets it, till
Aura's mother comes back from a trip.
A positive aspect of Tiny Furniture (the title presumably refers to Aura's and Lena's mom's post-feminist photographic artwork about female roles) is that if it's sluggish and meandering, it's also good-natured. Mom and sis nudge Aura for taking up space and not doing much, but they're still friendly and polite, and Siri (Simmons' name here) tells Aura this is her home and is even kind enough to assure her she is probably going to become much more successful than she herself is. (A little research reveals that Lena Dunham's father, Carroll Dunham, is a successful artist himself; he did not, however, consent to "act" here.) Perhaps looking for signs of earlier doubts despite the current maternal success, Aura finds her mother's journals from when she was her age and reads them (and doubt she does indeed find there). Her mother doesn't mind this snooping.
Another feature that you may or may not like is Dunham's penchant for disrobing for the camera, showing her pear shape and small breasts without shame (as she should: there's nothing wrong with how she looks), and walking around the loft clad in T-shirt without pants. Aura just got a degree in Film Theory, again doubtless true, though the alma mater, Obrerlin, isn't plugged.
The material is Mumblecore, but the people don't mumble. Dunham favors articulate, unhesitant speech. She even indulges in a witty former best friend with good looks and an English accent, the drug-hoovering, wine-gulping and quite entertaining Charlotte (Jemima Kirke). If all the characters were like Charlotte, and Nadine's misbehaving preppie pals got to speck at their party, this might have a remote chance of approaching the sophistication of Whit Stillman's (1990) Metropolitan. But Metropolitan is about social life and Tiny Furniture is just about a self-absorbed young woman who never leaves the neighborhood.
Dunham's film has been acclaimed at the South by Southwest Festival (an ideal venue, to which it was granted late admission), then gotten generally favorable reviews and interviews in the NY Times and The New Yorker. I've given Mumblecore my time and my attention, but now I begin to wonder, if this is the template talented beginners are going to follow. Is there nothing better? This film made me badly need to see a HongKong gangster movie. If the depths of genre seem to offer more for the imagination and the heart to contemplate, something must be off.
There are some big-name movie stars and directors still alive today who
were involved in legendary movies of the 1960's and 1970's, reputed to
be Hollywood's Golden Age of Cinema. Although many younger audiences
are being re-introduced to them thanks to the advent of DVD and
Netflix, many of the films' original stars and/or directors refuse to
do commentary for their movies, claiming it ruins the experience of
their films because it gives the audience too much information to
thoroughly enjoy the movie for what it is.
That being said, I went in to see "Tiny Furniture" with increased anticipation knowing that it was written and directed by its star, 24-year-old Lena Dunham, who also happens to be making her feature-film debut. I had heard that the film was shot on a shoestring budget, and that Dunham's real life mother and sister were to be playing her mother and sister on film as well. Taking those facts into account actually made me enjoy this film immensely, and didn't take anything away from it as far as I could tell.
"Tiny Furniture" taps into familiar territory for recent graduates in their 20's (myself included), as protagonist Aura (Dunham) moves back to her New York City home after graduating from college in the Midwest. She's not sure what to do with her life, but what makes her character even more interesting is her inner conflict. She desires independence as many college graduates do, but she has mixed feelings about leaving her spacious apartment occupied by her artist mother and precocious, college-bound sister. One of my personal favorite quotes is when her mother asks her, "Do you like living here?" and her response is simply, "What kind of question is that? I love living here!" It's certainly not the way I felt when I moved back in with my parents after graduating college, but it's understandable in her case.
The story gets a bit bogged down by subplots that seem to take up unnecessary space in the film, like when an amateur filmmaker from out of town (Alex Karpovsky) crashes at her family's place while finding a place to live. This section of the film seems to come and go with no real explanation or resolution of its significance.
There were also some lapses in storytelling, resulting in the film feeling draggy in some sections, not to mention ending on a slightly inconclusive and very questionable note. Still, those weaknesses did not deter the strengths of this film. The movie is shot incredibly well, with lighting pitch perfect in almost every shot. It's hard to believe that it was shot almost entirely using digital cameras, and it probably shows a new trend in the next generation of filmmakers.
The acting by all those involved was also very convincing, without any hint of rookie mistakes such as looking directly at the camera. I particularly thought Jemima Kirke, who played Aura's best friend Charlotte, provided great comic relief, and was a refreshingly colorful presence whenever she was on screen. Both Dunham and Kirke are destined for bigger and better roles in the future. It also was a brave move for Dunham to hire her real life mother and sister to play opposite her, and it made the interactions between the three of them highly believable.
Dunham doesn't stop there with the brave moves, though. What other actress, either first starting out or already established, would put themselves up on screen wearing nothing but a T-shirt? She does it, though, and it's because the character she plays, like the story she wrote, is true to herself. Not many other filmmakers are that bold.
While the story is not perfect, and some scenes fail to contribute greatly to the story, "Tiny Furniture" is still a very auspicious movie that film school graduates would probably kill to make. It is similar to Martin Scorsese's debut film "Who's That Knocking At My Door" (1968) and Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It" (1986) in that it's a small movie with a lot of promise. While it may not be for everyone, Lena Dunham is still a young filmmaker to watch, and I can't wait to see what she comes out with next.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How many new screenwriters and directors would like to be in Lena
Dunham's shoes right now? Two years ago she graduated from Oberlin
College and then floated around producing her own small-time web shows.
She then writes her first screenplay, raises $25K in cash from friends
and family, conscripts her mother and sister to act in the film and
shoots a good part of it in her parents' apartment. Before you know it,
the film is picked up by IFC and is on 'On Demand'. Now she's also got
a deal with HBO to write a TV series about struggling college graduates
The question remainsdoes this neophyte deserve the accolades heaped upon her? Dunham's story is largely autobiographical. She plays a more confused version of herself named Aura with her own mother playing the fictional mother, Siri, an artsy photographer. The film's title refers to the mother's use of miniatures during her photography sessions. Also in the mix is Dunham's real-life sister, Grace, who plays the fictional sister, Nadine.
The film begins with Aura returning from college where she created some artsy videos that made a small splash on campus. Aura's plan is to move out of her mother's apartment and in with a roommate from college. She has a cynical, diva-like friend, Charlotte, deliciously played by Jemima Kirke, who encourages her to be more open about her sexuality. Aura befriends Jed, an aimless young man in his 20s, who deludes himself into believing that he'll be hired by TV executives based on a number of unfunny videos he's posted on Youtube. Aura invites Jed to stay in the family apartment for a few days while her mother and sister are away. There's very little conflict in the story until Aura has a fight with her mother about Jed staying as a guest a bit longer. Siri insists that Jed leave and Aura finally capitulates and orders him out of the apartment.
The other part of the plot involves Aura taking a job as a day hostess at a bar/restaurant. There she meets Keith, a sou chef who stands her up on a date. For some reason, Aura finds Keith attractive and eventually they have sex together inside a pipe at a construction site. Suffice it to say, the sex is not a very rewarding experience for Aura who basically goes back home and cries on her mother's shoulder. What's more, Aura nixes the idea of moving in with her college chum and will remain under the parental fold until she has things more together.
I also should mention that there's also a preceding scene where Aura argues with her sister about bringing 25 of her friends to the apartment, some of whom, to Aura's chagrin, end up thoroughly plastered.
Unfortunately, due to her age, Dunham's experiences in life are predictably limited. Hence, the subject matter isn't very compelling. Without an exciting plot, Dunham falls back on creating a caricature of herself as a bit of a sad sack who can't seem to get it together. On the plus side, the best friend character (Charlotte) and that of the mother, are witty and endearing, which saves the story from descending into full-blown melodrama. The same cannot be said for the two male characters who have little to say or do.
Tiny Furniture is billed as a comedy but Aura's constant angst concerning her life path undercuts the film's attempts at humor. According to the film's producers, when the film was screened in Israel, a group of therapists approached Dunham and asked her if she was okay; suggesting that people outside the United States might view this film more as a tortured coming of age story as opposed to the humorous spectacle Dunham was aiming for.
Aside from the weak screenplay, Tiny Furniture features some excellent performances as well as nifty cinematography and editing. The film has a very professional look and it's amazing that it was made on such a shoestring budget and in such a short amount of time (I believe it took about 20 days to film). Dunham probably has more potential as a director than screenwriter. I'm hoping she'll have more to write about in the future than simple autobiographical tales of recent angst-ridden college graduates. Otherwise she may end up like Orson Wellesa wunderkind whose flame burned out much too early.
"I'm in a post-graduation malaise," Aura to her mother
Aura (Lena Dunham) and her mother (Laurie Simmons, Denham's real mom) are a generation apart, and it shows. In Tiny Furniture (a reference to her mother's collection) Aura has drifting back to mom by returning after graduation to their upscale Tribeca apartment, which her mother easily covers as a successful artist. Aura has no prospects to be so successful, struggling as she is just trying to sustain through a nowhere position as a restaurant hostess, not the filmmaker she'd like to be.
While the apartment is minimalist white, sharp, and clean, Aura is heavy, homely, and slow. The honesty of not casting a hottie as most directors would is one of the film's noble features, and that this director casts herself in unflattering circumstances (Aura has her first complete sex, boring I would say, in a street construction pipe and wears ill-fitting clothes) is a sign of the realism rare in most contemporary comedies about 20 somethings. In fact, director Dunham has achieved a universality anyway because the players in this comedy aren't a whole lot different from the young sit-com residents of the last 30 years, except they all had jobs or prospects, and alas, Aura has none.
I didn't enjoy the film as I had hoped because except for the pipe and some smart Juno-like dialogue at the beginning with her sister and her mom, nothing much at all happens. If you compare Tiny Furniture with Manhattan-based Seinfeld, where it's about nothing but really something, then this is a tiny comedy where shifting around the furniture still results in a boring set up.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was influenced to watch this film by the score it achieved on IMDb -
6.3 when I checked. I'm obliged to assume this was a misprint -
presumably it should have been 0.3.
The alarm bells started to ring with the credits - someone named Lena Dunham topped the cast and also wrote and directed this effort. Apparently she was 24 years old at the time. Okay, Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of eight - but this is no symphony, it isn't even elevator music.
The lead character is a young female, single, a little overweight (which I mention because she emphasizes it in the film), recently graduated and unemployed, living in New York with her mother and younger sister.
What passes for a plot includes every imaginable cliché that might reasonably be crammed into 98 minutes:- inter-generational conflict, sibling rivalry, the search for affection, meaningless sex, blah, blah, blah. I imagine this film is at least partly autobiographical. Unfortunately, to describe it as tiresome is to indulge in gross understatement.
The most positive thing I can say about this film is that the performances were, by and large, credible.
Why the high scores on IMDb? Beats me! All I can say is, do yourself a big favour and watch something on television instead - anything!
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.
This quiet, unassuming movie about a recent college graduate who moves
back in with her mom and sister while trying to figure out what to do
with her life got under my skin and stayed there.
Director Lena Dunham, who also stars in the film as Aura, has a knack for putting together individual scenes that play as if nothing of much significance is happening in them, but that when put together as a whole reveal an awful lot about the lives of her characters. Much of the film follows Aura as she aimlessly hangs out with friends, meets guys, gets a job. She's awkward and maybe an easy target, but she's also sweet and harmless and easy enough to root for. She gets on her mom's nerves and vice versa, fights with her sister, and overstays her welcome in her mom's house. We've seen it all before, right?
Not really. "Tiny Furniture" may be about subject matter we've seen done a hundred times, but it felt like a totally unique take on it. In fact, it's not until the film's final moments, and when you're thinking about it afterwards, that you realize the movie isn't really that much about Aura's ennui and lack of direction; it's about her relationship with her mom, a fact that's easy to overlook by the small amount of screen time the mom has. By the end of the movie, Aura's increasingly destructive and increasingly disturbing behavior seems less like a lonely girl's attempts to fill the boring hours of her day, and instead like the ever-more-desperate attempt of a child trying to force an absentee parent into taking notice of her.
This is a really wonderful movie with tiny nuances in the direction and acting that set it apart from other indie films like it.
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