Lena Dunham and Nora Ephron were fans of each other's work, and Ephron's half-hour-long interview with Dunham is featured on the DVD version of this film. In it, Dunham explains how especially influenced she was by Ephron's own autobiographical movies, Heartburn (1986) and This Is My Life (1992). See more »
Honey, I'm home... Family?
Can you turn your right toe slightly towards me?
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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.
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