Review: Post-college confusion in Tiny Furniture
Critic's Rating: 3/5
Saturday 13 November 2010
Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Jemima Kirke, David Call, Alex Karpovsky
For those who have spent a moviegoing lifetime nitpicking about dissimilar-looking actors playing family members, well, this is the movie for you.
Tiny Furniture, which won best narrative feature at the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year, is the feature film debut of writer-director Lena Dunham, who plays a 22-year-old version of herself, Aura. She has also cast her mom, fine art photographer Laurie Simmons, as her mother, and her younger sister, Grace Dunham, as her sister.
They're exceptionally believable as a family not just because they actually are a family, but because Dunham's instincts are for naturalism. It's an exciting debut, one that's already won over many in Hollywood, including Judd Apatow, whose producing a pilot for HBO with her.
Having just graduated from college in Ohio, Aura has returned to her mother's Tribeca loft, a sleek, all-white apartment with seemingly endless white cabinets. (It, too, is Dunham's real family home.)
Aura's boyfriend (her sister calls him "like a spec of granola on a bowl of homemade yogurt") has left her to move to Colorado. She has little going for her other than her hamster (who will soon die) and the smallest of YouTube success (her "dyslectic stripper" video has 400 hits).
"I'm in a postgraduate delirium," Aura says. Her sister, Nadine, quickly retorts that she merely sounds like she's "in the epilogue to Felicity."
Aura finds little solace from her family. Her mother, a star of the 1970s Soho art scene, is busy with her photographs of miniatures. She responds to her first name, Siri, quicker than she does to "Mom."
Nadine informs Aura that her old bedroom is now her "special space." Behind black frame glasses, she's a confident, ambitious teenager, sure of her future as an artist. She does sit-ups while reading.
They're a classic family of New York intellectuals, as observed by a flailing, uncertain daughter. This is a world not too distant from that of a Whit Stillman film or Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. (Dunham has left out her father, painter Carroll Dunham.)
Aura falls in with her old friend Charlotte (an excellent Jemima Kirke), a similar daughter of artists. She gets Aura a job as a hostess at a nearby restaurant that pays her so little that the only benefit seems to be chatting up the handsome but creepy sous chef Keith (David Call).
Her other romantic interest is Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a visiting video artist who, as a mutual friend of theirs notes, is famous "in like an Internet kind of way." His (terrible) viral hit is the "Nietschian Cowboy," in which he rides a hobby horse while spouting lines like: "This town ain't big enough for Christianity and egalitarianism."
He's a leech, and though he's crashing at Aura's home, he shows no attraction to her. Instead, he complains about his bed, or if he's hungry.
Dunham is brutal to herself. Instead of glamorizing herself, she's filmed squeezing on pantyhose and flopped on the floor. Her mom tries to rouse her from bed, guessing that she sweat on the sheets.
But Dunham's Aura is still bright. She might be confused and rudderless, but her wit and basic honesty belie strength.
Tiny Furniture has the feel of a `90s indie, but its quality is better than you'd think. Shot on an HD SLR camera (an inexpensive but high-quality kind of digital camera that's been a boon to filmmakers) by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes.
The film doesn't offer a neat conclusion to Aura's messy young life, but because Tiny Furniture is so autobiographical, we know things will eventually work out for Aura: She's going to become a filmmaker with a bright future.
Tiny Furniture, an IFC Films release, is unrated.
Running time: 98 minutes
Rating: Three stars out of four
Time pass comedy entertainer
Average comedy entertainer
Decent rural family entertainer
Soubin Shahir and Mamta Mohandas shine in this conventional film