Tiny Furniture Reviews
But the problem remains that she is self-absorbed. And thus, so is the film. She knows it, acknowledges it in her script, and has gone on to acknowledge it in Girls, but the truth is, she can't make anything that isn't about her, and she can't stay out of it. She wants people to see how she thinks, feels, and what she desires. And while this is an interesting film for exactly that reason, it also feels like listening to someone go on about their insecurities without a single thought given to anything outside of their bubble.
Lena Dunham continues to create in this way. She whines, though she is privileged, as if begging us to believe that she has problems too, and they are just as bad as everyone else's. And while such an experience in real life can be eye-opening, it can also be quite annoying - especially when it lasts an hour and a half.
About a recent college grad who returns home while she tries to figure out what to do with her life.
A young woman comes home after graduating from college and tries to get her life together as she deals with her mom, her sister, some friends and two potential boyfriends. The indie darling film is both much better than I expected but not as good as I hoped. Don't get me wrong its a good movie and worth a look, I just was bothered by a few things. First up some of the performances are uneven. Lena Dunham who wrote, directed and stars in the film is good, but erratic in her performance, I think largely because she's doing too much. The guy who plays the slacker who latches on to her and leaches from her for a couple of weeks is so dead pan as to be nearly dead. The character is also so unlikable you don't see what out heroine sees in him (his philosophical cowboy is not even clever). The other people are mostly good, with Dunham's mom hitting one out of the park in every scene she's in. Another problem I have is that while the camera work looks great its rather static and unremarkable. I understand Dunham was working under constraints but it makes the film feel like any number of indie films, which it really isn't. On the other hand the script is often witty and on target (why the film isn't like many independent films recently). I really liked much of the dialog even if the drama is uneven. If anything, Dunham's directorial debut is a good precursor for greater things to come as her successfully lauded HBO show "Girls" is earning tons of praise from both critics and audience alike.
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.
The rhythm of the dialogue is natural. All the characters sound different: Aura is disaffected and childish, Charlotte is worldly and blase, Jed is pretentious and quick. The narrative unravels halfway through though. Aura doesn't really seem to have "a very, very hard time" (as espoused on the movie poster) upon entering post-graduate ennui at first. People get angry without much exigence. It's not quite clear how her and Keith's affair starts and ends. Aura isn't presented as an attractive or experienced girl, so what attracts Keith to her? Is he "slumming it?" How does she acclimate so quickly to such a tawdry tryst? What's her damage, and how will she deal?
With her first feature, the flawed "Tiny Furniture," Lena Dunham shows a great deal of promise as a first director, especially on the visual end of the spectrum. That's sadly not the case with either writing or acting.(Merritt Wever steals the movie in her brief time onscreen which speaks volumes to the last category.) But instead of saying anything meaningful or moving on from her semi-autobiographical meanderings, Dunham only moves physically and creatively across the Williamsburg Bridge for her television series "Girls." And negative points for hating on foreign films, by the way.
Dunham's character Aura has a photographer mother (played by her real photographer mother) and a tempestuous teen sister (played by her real sister). Their performances are so natural that you wouldn't guess they are amateur actors. They live in an attractive New York townhouse of consciously minimalist decor (a repeat gag involves trying to find things in a long row of identical white cabinets). Aura has a close college friend who's planning to move east to room with her, plus a long-time best friend already in town (scene-stealing Jemime Kirke). She gets a trivial job as a restaurant hostess and dabbles with two different guys, neither of whom are likely to give her a sustained relationship. There's not much more to know, and Dunham doesn't force any unnatural resolutions to her characters' issues.
It came as no surprise to me that writer/director/actor Lena Dunham scored a series deal with HBO after seeing her adept, incisive feature debut, TINY FURNITURE. This micro-budget, semi-autobiographical gem stars Dunham, her real life sister and mother, and was shot in their own home, yet the authenticity doesn't stop there. Dunham plays Aura, a recent college graduate who returns home to figure out her life. She fights with her self-absorbed family, she gets a shitty job, reconnects with an old friend, and pursues a couple of men following the dissolution of her college relationship. That's about as much plot as you're gonna get here, but the joy is in the telling. Aura seems at first glance like so many sad, disaffected loners we've seen before (think Napoleon Dynamite) but a much sweeter, socially forward character emerges, and the movie takes on a much more fully-rounded tone. What emerges is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, lost and in need of a little positive reinforcement from someone...anyone. She can't get it from her mom, her sister, or many of the people she encounters along the way, and so she makes mistakes and lashes out at the wrong people sometimes, but there's always a quietly sweet undertone to this character that I loved. This is droll humor with a real beating heart, instead of the snide, hipster laughs we've been accustomed to in the past. A sadly grotesque climactic scene inside a corrugated pipe had me laughing and moved simultaneously and perfectly sums up this truly wonderful accomplishment.
Special praise to Jemima Kirke, who plays her gorgeous, wild child lifelong friend and turns her bitchy, stoned-out character into something memorable and touching. Since she'll be appearing in Dunham's HBO show, GIRLS, I predict future stardom for this great discovery.