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Movie Review: ‘Tiny Furniture’

November 11, 2010
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Tiny Furniture is an indie film that enjoyed festival acclaim earlier this year.  It won the Jury Prize for  Best Narrative Feature at the competitive SXSW film festival, and the film has since been acquired by IFC films.  The film opens in Los Angeles and New York on November 12, folllowed by a slow nation-wide roll-out.

Aura (Lena Dunham) graduates from college and promptly finds herself right back at her mother’s Tribeca loft apartment.

She’s recently been dumped by her college boyfriend (who had to “find” himself) and she is rapidly realizing that her film theory degree does not make her an ideal candidate for future employment.  She spends the weeks after graduation aimlessly lying around the apartment, trying to figure out what to do with her life.

She runs into her prententious, obnoxious childhood friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) who has nary a thing to worry about because she lives off of her father’s credit cards. Consequently, Charlotte is always playing devil’s advocate to Aura’s greater sensibilities.

Charlotte helps Aura get a worthless $11/hour job as a day hostess at a neighborhood restaurant. It is there that Aura befriends and lusts after “Chef” Keith (David Call) who she finds all the more attractive because he has a live-in girlfriend.  Not a smart one, that Aura.

Her other “romantic” interest is Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a free-loading YouTube artist who takes advantage of Aura so he can crash at her pad while her mother and sister visit colleges.  He does not hide the fact that he is physically repulsed by the prospect of touching her.

Adding insult to injury, Aura’s mother is a famous photogropher, and her sister Nadine appears to be destined for greatness as well. Aura is the odd man out in a family of over-achievers.

On paper, this should be an unlikeable movie.  Every character is a complete asshole without any redeeming qualities, but due to Dunham’s wonderful and fresh performance, the movie is quite charming and funny.

It is also relatable, particularly in these economic times. More and more graduates find themselves in the humiliating position of being unable to find work, which contributes to a vicious cycle of low self-esteem and reckless behavior.

Although Aura can definitely be considered a narcissist, Dunham taps into her vulnerability and insecurity, so we find ourselves rooting for her to find her way.

The film’s strength lies in its voyeuristic ability to let us watch these characters interact within their family unit, however dysfunctional it may be.

A few interesting notes about the movie:

  • Dunham’s real-life mother (photographer Laurie Simmons) and sister (Grace Dunham) play her fictional mother and sister in the film.
  • The Tribeca loft used for most of the movie scenes is actually her parents’ loft.
  • The film was shot entirely on a Canon 7D still/video camera, and it is one of the first films to do so.

Tiny Furniture reminded me a lot of Greenberg, a movie that came out earlier this year that kind of fit into the “mumblecore” genre (much like this movie does) and featured some very unlikable characters who have utterly lost their place in the world.

Many people disliked that movie because of its caustic lead (played by a superb Ben Stiller), but I found it refreshingly honest.

There are lots of  flawed people in the world, and there is nothing wrong with making a movie about them. It’s real life, not the glossed over Hollywood version.   I happen to find these real depictions of imperfect people a welcome change.

Rating 4/5  Tiny Furniture is written and directed by Lena Dunham.  Starring Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Alex Karpovsky, and David Call. You can watch the trailer embedded below.

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