Based on her own post-college experience, Lena Dunham's new film Tiny Furniture is proof that life -- even a virtually-unemployable year-long slump -- really is art. Or, at least, it makes for some good material.
Winner of South By Southwest's Narrative Feature Award, Tiny Furniture follows Aura (Dunham), a recent Ohio college grad who's just moved back into her family's TriBeCa loft. Her arrival is met with the disinterest of her mother (Laurie Simmons) -- who seems more invested in her work than Aura's return -- and sister (Grace Dunham), who asks, "How long are you going to be staying in our house?"
But the situation's only temporary -- you know, just until things pick up. Or, at least, that's the plan. Aura's just been dumped by a long-term boyfriend who's left to "build a shrine to his ancestors;" neglected by family and with friends nearly all gone, one of her few comforts is the following she's drummed up (400 views and counting) from her YouTube videos of a chubby girl stripping in a fountain. She is the chubby girl.
Re-friended by a childhood playmate she has avoided for the past few years, Aura is subject to the egging-on of the frivolous and fabulous Charlotte (Jemima Kirke). She also hosts a love interest-cum-apartment leach (Alex Karpovsky) and grapples with the hot-and-cold advances of a very hot sous chef (David Call) -- sometimes seeming to be at the mercy of the bullying personalities around her.
Though it's easy to take advantage of her agreeable nature, Aura's no wallflower. An unassuming wit and incredible charm make what could be a pitiable character one that's a downright relatable -- and extremely friendable -- heroine. Dunham's performance channels the sincerely pathetic, balancing droll physicality (emphasis on the weight) and endearing imprudence at the same time.
Dunham has managed to write a script that exhibits a pitch-perfect understanding of the ironic humor, confusion and desperation of post-graduate life. Bolstered by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes' extensive use of long shots, Tiny Furniture successfully represents the extremely personal without becoming too sentimental. The film, too, portrays Aura without ever judging or championing the character, willing to let her simply be.
Tiny Furniture is all the more compelling for its strong resemblance to the filmmaker's own life. While Dunham takes on the role of writer, director and star to the film, other prominent members of the cast are also played by their real-life counterparts. Dunham's mother and sister play a (not too) fictional rendering of themselves, and Aura's childhood friend is played by Dunham's high school classmate. The loft is played by her loft. But what's laudable is that for a work so heavily focused on Dunham -- a starring vehicle featuring a plot that mirrors her own experience -- it's not marked with the self indulgence you'd expect. Instead, it's an understated and strong work, unafraid to dwell in the embarrassing and refreshingly honest.
Tiny Furniture opens December 10, 2010.