Written and Directed by: Lena Dunham
Starring: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Alex Karpovsky, David Call
“Have you watched Tiny Furniture yet?” a friend asked “It was pretty good. Watch it soon, it will lose it’s meaning pretty quickly.” He wasn’t wrong. Lena Dunham, whose YouTube videos about New York art types were so well received that she was given funding to make Tiny Furniture, a feature length picture about a film school graduate who makes YouTube videos about New York art types. It’s a really good film, smart and well made, but my friend is absolutely right that it is current to a fault and will likely have a very minor shelf life.
Aura (Dunham), a YouTube video artist and recent graduate, returns home to live with her mother in New York. Aura’s mother (Dunham’s actual mother and working artist Laurie Simmons) is an artist currently working on a series of photographs of tiny, model furniture and Aura’s sister Nadine (Grace Dunham) is 17-years-old and deeply involved with her mother’s work as well as her own; Aura instantly feels like a guest in her former home as her family has very little time or patience for her. Aura connects with a high school friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) who is a little wild and whose spontaneity appeals to Aura in her current directionless slump. Aura enters into two half-relationships with two self-absorbed dudes. One, Jed (Alex Karpovsky) is another YouTube video artist visiting New York and whose relationship with Aura is less romantic or sexual than he just needs a place to stay. The other, Keith (David Call) is Aura’s handsome co-worker at a local restaurant whose red-flag lifestyle is immediately attractive to Aura. Neither ever amounts to much, but they only help aid the turmoil of Aura’s emotional state.
She’s going through a crisis, kind of. Fresh out of school, she has a degree that’s not very employable, home is no longer home-y but she can’t afford to get back on her own, her peers from school are gone and old high school friends don’t offer the same sort of intellectual support she’s used to. She’s working at a restaurant but barely bothers to keep her hours, she’s beginning to doubt her creative output as an artist and she’s losing faith in the New York art scene in which she was raised. Dunham hits on notes of apathy and dejection familiar to those of us fresh from an Undergrad and spinning our wheels and she does it well.
With her lived-in performance and solid screenwriting, Dunham holds her own but it is through her direction that her talents truly shine. There’s a wonderful sense of humour in Dunham’s visual composition and editing style, and her camera smartly observes the film’s lazy inaction. Bright costume design bursts against various New York backdrops, providing great atmosphere for the hilariously vacuous background chatter of the artists and hipsters that populate the film. Dunham’s sense of her city is sharp and Tiny Furniture offers few of the familiar NYC landmarks but opts instead for the New York more familiar, I suspect, to those who live there.
Tiny Furniture is as solid an indie as they come, but it doesn’t feel particularly weighted. It is very immediate in its context and my friend was correct in saying it will age quickly. Duham’s direction here shows a far deeper grasp of film and filmmaking than her quirky YouTube work would have let on and she proves to have a very driven and specific vision. Economical and perceptive, I suspect that as Dunham grows as an artist her films will begin to take hold of the human condition in a much more lasting and powerful way.