I like Indie films - I really do, but all too often they seem to revel in their independent nature... or, to put it another way; just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.
So, before I go on to the review of Tiny Furniture, I'm going to offer up a little Indie primer. First, create a script where nothing much actually happens (under the pretense of this being a "character study). Secondly, throw in some absurd peripheral characters (to add "interest" - as in "these characters are interesting, if weird"). Third, give little "clues" - bits of cinematic shorthand that can be interpreted by the viewer (to make the film seem "deep" and "arty").
Now, looking at the primer, let's see how Tiny Furniture stacks up. Script - check, nothing much happens here - which, of course is by design. In this case, this "slice of life" holds the added burden of the morass that frequently occurs upon college graduation; especially when you realize that your area of study holds little to no help in procuring a job of meaning in the real world. The setup is certainly here for some serious exploration into the subject and how to deal with it... but here the film settles instead for laying out the issue and then beating it to death with a character unable to make any kind of positive move in her life. Not helping matters is a too forgiving mother who mentions that she herself (now a "famous" artist) didn't accomplish anything worthwhile while in her 20's.
The odd supporting characters - oh yes, in abundance. Aside from the artistic mother who has her own odd set of rules, there's the brainiac younger sister (giving the script the opportunity to deal with sister envy), and then the best friend - who uses daddy, and daddy's credit card as some kind of restitution for mommy not being around (or some such drivel - it's never made quite clear). Add in two male interests - both grifters in their own way, and ridiculous in their actions and how our heroine reacts to them. After the artsy boy weasels his way into the heroin's home "just for a couple of days", he then has the nerve to call her an Indian giver when she finally asks him to leave weeks later. That she takes his browbeating fits the morass of her character, and is one of the flaws of the film - for no matter how down on herself she may be, anyone with any spine at all would have kicked the loser out the door and laughed at his protestations.
The "clue" parts of the film are also there. Things that seem real on the surface, and yet the kind of thing that one could look at and say "aha! A deeper meaning! Example number one - After the grafter boy tries out all the beds in the flat (what is this Goldilocks?) he ends up on an inflatable bed in the heroines' room (which she explains she purchased a couple of years back... hmm, she's been to college for the last 4 years so WTF? Just one of several examples of playing fast and loose with the cinematic time line). The grifter then complains that the bed is losing air, which leads to the duo sharing the same bed - but not sleeping together. Later, after the grifter has been kicked out, there is a scene where she deflates the bed as she sits on it, slowly sinking to the floor - ooh, artsy! (I hope I don't have to explain the significance of this, if you've read this far).
Another bit of lazy time line awareness is that over almost 2 weeks the grifter is reading the same short Woody Allen book - umm, the guy does NOTHING all day, has to spend hours waiting for her to return from work (as she has the only key to the flat), and yet he is unable to wade through a thin book given 2 weeks - what's he read, a word a day?
The film also throws in a seeming obsession with underwear or the lack thereof - I suppose this could be construed as "freedom" as it mostly occurs when the odd girlfriend is around; and taking the freedom or lack thereof motif a bit further there are several scenes in which the chunky heroine is seen struggling into spanks - film shorthand for being trapped, or restricted - which is bs, for her choices were her own and she decided to run home to the only place she felt safe instead of looking the real world in the eye and saying "bring it on".
Ultimately, what fails here is that I couldn't feel one ounce of empathy for the heroine, nor would I care to spend any time at all with any of the characters presented. I was especially pissed at the mother for allowing her daughter all that leeway while she attempted to "find herself". A little tough love would have gone a long way here - allowing her daughter to quit her job because it was "boring" is quite simply sending her the wrong message. Oh, your job is boring - well at least it's putting food on the table - so get used to it. We can't all be gifted and have life handed to us. Arrgh, this film's ethic pissed me off!
Ok, now that that's out of my system - I have to admit that the acting was real enough - no hard feat considering that the writer is also the main character, and she used her real life sister and mother to portray the appropriate roles. In the end, you can look upon this as an art piece - the same kind of pop art that so many people look upon and go "ooh, this is deep" - but to me the Emperor is still buck naked and while yes, I did actually think about what the film was saying, I found this a bit heavy handed and obvious, wallowing a bit too much in artsy pretentiousness. Ha, I just know that someone is going to read my review and sniff "poor boy, you just didn't understand the finer points". Have to disagree, I think I understood just fine, just couldn't care less about any of them, or their perceived problems.