FILM: Tiny Furniture (IFC Films), written and directed by Lena Dunham
Uncertain what to do with her life and heartbroken that her boyfriend has abandoned her for a journey of self-actualization, recent college graduate Aura returns home to her family’s New York apartment. The past four years at school in Ohio seem to fade away as she slides back into her old life—hanging out with her burnout friend Charlotte, working as a restaurant hostess, and trying to coexist peacefully with her precocious younger sister and photographer mother (played by her real-life sister and mother).
Aura has vague ambitions of film-making, but her failed YouTube channel hangs gloomily over her. Her arty video of her stripping to her underwear by a fountain only has 357 views, but a torrent of nasty comments insulting her body. Frustrated by her artistic career, Aura lounges pantsless around her family’s apartment and focuses her energy on misbegotten romantic liaisons.
When she meets Jed, a pretentious YouTube sensation visiting the city on business, she asks him out, then suggests he stay in her apartment while he is in town. As he eats all her family’s food, mocks Aura for sweating in her bed, and ignores her romantic intentions, she begins to focus on another guy: the hot chef at her restaurant who lives with his girlfriend. Aside from these crushes, Aura withdraws from nearly everyone. She has begun to ignore her college friend and intended roommate, Frankie, decidees to quit her low-paying job, and argues with her mom and sister. As her life rapidly degenerates into a series of fights, depressingly amateurish art shows, and illicit public sex, Aura can’t seem to get a grip on who she is or what she wants—and the film won’t give us any straightforward answers.
Tiny Furniture is appealingly stripped down, from its almost nonexistent soundtrack to the unpolished appearances of the actors. The dialogue succeeds at sounding natural and effortless while still providing a consistent edge of awkward humor. This all seems appropriate for a film starring the writer/director and her real family, set in their actual New York apartment. Sometimes this amateurish quality is problematic, as Lena Dunham’s acting chops don’t seem quite sufficient for her more emotional scenes and the dialogue and plot sometimes meander tiresomely.
But these flaws do not overpower an otherwise solid film. Dunham’s no-frills approach allows her to capture the chilling sense of isolation and purposelessness experienced by so many recent graduates, especially in this time of economic uncertainty. Even better, she shows us that when the outlook is bleak, there is still so much to laugh about.