Tiny Furniture (2010)
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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.
I believe there happens to be only one great thing about this movie which is her mother's apartment. Of the parts I could handle of the film, I was left wondering how the mother ever managed to remember what went in which beautifully white cabinet.
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 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.
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.
Aura, the protagonist is an entitled, self-pitying post-grad student who flounders awkwardly through bad choices and bratty behavior and passes it off as self discovery.
Aura's mother fits every cliché of the rich, distant, oblivious parent who simultaneously fosters and disapproves of her daughter's bad habits.
The men at whom Aura throws herself are the worst part of the film. These men are supposed to be presented to us as unique and deep--one is broke and a freeloader, but he makes YouTube videos in which he quotes Nietzsche while riding a rocking horse. The other is a cook who cheats on his girlfriend and only shows interest in Aura after she indicates she can get him pills, but--he reads novels and wears a fedora. These men take advantage of her in the most blatant ways possible, apparently without her noticing.
However, it's hard to feel sympathy for Aura when people take advantage of her because she also takes advantage of others. She takes her mother's money, food, and wine without a thought and lies when confronted about it. She reads her mother's diary without permission and lets a man she just met live in her mother's bedroom while she's gone.
Aura has one friend in the film who seems to truly care about her. And while Aura appears ready to do anything for her new friends who treat her like trash, she ignores, snubs, and drives away the one good friend.
The plot plods through the mundane activities of Aura's days. The more mundane the activity, the harder she fails in completing it. She is constantly late for her job as a day hostess. She can't rouse herself to put on pants for half the film. She is often shot lying on the floor, even while carrying on conversations, babysitting, and showering.
All in all, the film is about a lazy, self-indulgent child in the body of an adult who, for whatever reason, is unable to handle any measure of responsibility. Pretension and privilege drive the film, which seems meant to cater to the hipster/indie film crowd on the surface level, without the depth of many other films in the same genre. A depressing, cliché movie at best and an abomination at worst.
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.