LITTLE ROCK I think it is more difficult for young people - especially those privileged young people saddled with expectations - to find their way in the world these days.
It is hardly their fault that, for cultural and economic reasons, American adolescence now extends into one’s early 30s (and sometimes longer). It is hardly their fault that a lot of professions require you to spend years in pursuit of credentials in order to file papers and check facts. I see underemployed talented young people all the time - some of them can’t hide the hunger in their eyes as they wait for my generation to pull over and let them pass.
Aura - the character played by Lena Dunham in Tiny Furniture, a film she also wrote and directed, which premiered at the Little Rock Film Festival back in June - is typical of this sort of young person. She’s 23 years old, and fresh out of Oberlin with a degree in film theory and a YouTube video that has attracted 357 hits. She has come home to Tribeca, to live with her family - her artist mother Siri (Laurie Simmons, Dunham’s real-life artist mother) and her more glamorous younger sister (Grace Dunham, in fact the writer-director-star’s younger sister).
Siri has achieved a level of fame roughly equivalent with that of Simmons, who along with Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, are key members of the so-called “Pictures Generation” of artists who came of age in the 1970s. Like Simmons, one of Sira’s frequent subjects is doll house furniture.
And so we might assume - I did - that Tiny Furniture is a sort of autobiographical essay about negotiating the limbo of one’s 20s. Or to put it another way, that Dunham is live-blogging her journey. We catch the temper of the passive-aggressive compliments her friends and family direct her way when she returns home; we get the demoralization that accompanies her boyfriend’s decision to go home to Colorado to center himself and look after the spirits of his ancestors.
We appreciate her selfdeprecating romantic misadventures with a jerk-wad chef and pretentious YouTube celebrity (Alex Karpovsky in awry turn) who videos himself riding a rocking horse while reciting Nietzsche.
As such, Tiny Furniture is the sort of film that can safely be described as “interesting” - though many moviegoers are likely to have more emphatic reactions. There’s not much of a narrative arc, and while Dunham does seem to take pains to portray herself from unflattering angles, she’s essentially positing herself (and her story) as worthy of our attention. Some people will be put off by what they perceive as the false modesty of the preening auteur.
Others will mistake the film for something brave and new - which it is not. The details Dunham focuses on selectively reveal a not-so special character, a culturally alert, bright but snarky intelligence operating from a safely ironic distance. (Dunham isn’t a real loser - she’s an up-and-coming filmmaker.)
Still, I’m inclined to regard the movie favorably, for it’s well-observed and wellmade - it’s everything you want in a movie if you don’t care about being engaged by characters or story. Tiny Furniture is almost an anti-drama in that it seems to purposefully avoid all occasions to gain purchase in our hearts. Probably because it doesn’t want to cheapen itself. In that way it’s kind of a noble thing. Misguided maybe, but noble.
MovieStyle, Pages 29 on 01/21/2011
Print Headline: REVIEW Tiny Furniture