Tiny Furniture sees young filmmaker Lena Dunham trying to carve out a path for herself amidst the monochrome post-graduate confusion of New York.
All the Small Things by Laura Bennett
A novice filmmaker, bit-part actress, and recent graduate Lena Dunham received plaudits from all directions and awards galore for her second feature length film Tiny Furniture, which she wrote, directed, and starred in. Shot in no time at all on a minimal budget in New York, Dunham cast her family in the lead roles and used her parents’ loft apartment as the setting for most of the film’s scenes. Start with what you know the old adage goes, and Dunham clearly chose to embrace this advice.
By her own admission Aura, played by Dunham herself, is in a “postgraduate delirium”. After four seemingly hedonistic years of studying film theory at a Mid-Western college Aura returns to the bosom of the family in Manhattan, the monochrome loft apartment of her artsy parents in Tribeca to be precise. The film’s title comes from her mother’s fittingly obscure artistic speciality of photographing minuscule pieces of furniture, sometimes given scale by the life-size body parts of her daughters.
With few plans to speak of, Aura’s soul searching and quarter-life funk frustrates her mother as her sassy younger sister accuses her of channelling a character in the “epilogue to Felicity”. She is still trying to come to terms with having been abandoned by her long-term college boyfriend who disappeared classically to “find himself”. The splashes of colour in Aura’s world, which is otherwise as white and endless as the decor in her parents’ apartment (“Where are the light bulbs? In the white cabinet!”), are provided by her friends, most of whom seem equally lost and directionless.
Aura’s existence is given structure by two friendships. The first is with Jed, who she meets at a party and subsequently invites to stay at her apartment while her mother is out of town. Jed is apparently on the verge of his big break but in the meantime contents himself with making YouTube videos acting out various skits entitled “The Sceptical Gynaecologist” and “The Nietzschean Cowboy”. It doesn’t look all that promising.
Aura has also rekindled a childhood friendship with the louche but beautiful Charlotte. Charlotte at least encourages Aura to get a job to provide structure to her time, helping her find a doomed position as a day hostess at a nearby restaurant. Given its tiny salary the job’s only attraction for Aura is the opportunity to flirt with one of the chefs, an equally listless and uninspiring type.
Aura’s encounters with the film’s other characters do little to advance the plot but provide plenty of quirky stories that allow her to postpone making any serious decisions about her life even further. Things come to a head when Aura’s younger sister Nadine has a teenage party while the girl’s mother is away. Even this teenage rebellion leaves Aura at a loss as she vacillates between wanting to become part of the fully-fledged adult world and trying to cling on to her own comparatively carefree youth.
As she hits rock bottom Aura eventually turns to her mother, admitting that she’s still “figuring it out” in the absence of someone to tell her who she is. It’s a familiar story, and ultimately the film’s conclusion provides few answers to Aura’s situation; fittingly there is no moment of dawning realisation, a chance encounter, or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that gets Aura back on track. She continues to drift on aimlessly through the sea of white.
Recently given her own series by HBO, Girls, which will be produced by Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham is someone from whom there is undoubtedly much more to come. Given the budgetary limitations and the familial acting turns Tiny Furniture is hugely successful and deserving of the praise heaped upon it, yet, as a filmmaker, Dunham’s education is just beginning.
Tiny Furniture is released in the UK on 30 March 2012