In Tiny Furniture, the young protagonist Aura (writer-director Lena Dunham) slowly comes to terms with aching "post-graduate delirium," her unavoidable return to her family's home in Tribeca, and the resulting awkward purgatory between childhood and adulthood. The film is shot in Dunham's actual family apartment; her real mother, Laurie Simmons, plays the somewhat stiff, successful artist-matriarch, while Dunham's real sibling, Grace, plays Nadine, Aura's younger sister and the apparent star of the family.
Tiny Furniture isn't always easy to watch. Even with considerable comic relief from Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), Aura's strangely alluring childhood friend, and Aura's own sharp-witted self-pity, there are moments when the film tips over into a plodding display of navel-gazing. Aura drags us through her cries for attention and her failures as a daughter, sister, and friend. Yet she elicits sympathy, too. What ultimately saves Tiny Furniture from being another trying look at post-graduate despondency is its wittiness, its frankness, and its distinctly feminist perspective.
Most striking about Dunham's style is not only her sharp cinematography but her adamant refusal of the male gaze. By consistently inviting the viewer to look at her body, her cellulite, her pale skin, and her scraggly hair, Dunham denies conventional sexual objectification. Instead, we are meant to experience Aura's vulnerability and the film's troubling dénouement in all its authentically human shades.
It is not that Aura cannot be considered as a sexual being; just that her way of fumbling through the world of boys — Jed (Alex Karpovsky) and Keith (David Call) — has little to do with lusty Hollywood images and much to do with real-world sentiments of loneliness, boredom, validation, fulfillment, and displacement.
Recently graduated or no, viewers may find themselves drawn in by the familiar scenarios or repulsed by the sad-sack embodiment of young adult life. If nothing else, the film speaks to the thousands of wandering grads churned out each year to unprecedented joblessness. A scene in which Aura is told to find a light bulb "in the white cabinet" as she stands in front of an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling white cabinets proves a particularly apt metaphor, and in moments like these the film succeeds the most. Though this is undoubtedly only the beginning for Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture is a solid beginning that is autobiographical and pointedly stylized, unflinching and smart.
Opening Friday, February 25th