Title: Tiny Furniture
Directed by: Lena Dunham
Starring: Lena Dunham (The Innkeepers), Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham and Jemima Kirke.
Not everyone has the courage to write a satirical comedy movie based partly on their own narcissistic, self-serving lives, and then ask their family and friends to show their support by starring alongside them in it. But Lena Dunham, a young, up-and-coming screenwriter, director and actress, proved her talent by recruiting her mother, sister and several friends to star in her latest independent movie, ‘Tiny Furniture.’ Dunham shows that unlike her self-pitying, immature character Aura, there are young adults who strive to do their best and can achieve their dreams.
‘Tiny Furniture’ follows Aura (played by Dunham), as she moves back into her mother Siri’s (portrayed by Dunham’s real life mother, Laurie Simmons) Tribeca loft after graduating from a liberal arts college in Ohio. Having earned a degree in film theory, Aura is unsure of what kind of job she wants to get. She struggles with her desire to be as successful as her mother, who photographs miniature things. She also feels that she can’t compete with her over-achieving 17-year-old sister Nadine (played by Dunham’s real life sister, Grace Dunham), and thinks that Siri and Nadine are constantly ganging up against her.
Aura reconnects with her old childhood friend Charlotte (portrayed by Dunham’s real life friend Jemima Kirke), who lives off her father. Charlotte tries to give Aura confidence by helping her get a dead-end job as a daytime hostess at the cafe she used to work at. While working there, Aura is attracted to the stand-offish chef Keith (played by David Call). However, Keith is already living with his girlfriend, and Aura is casually dating Jed (portrayed by Alex Karpovsky), a TV director from Chicago who is in New York for a few weeks “on business.”
As the film’s director, Dunham definitely made the right decision in casting her family and friends alongside her. They all compliment each other on-screen, as they understand each other’s real-life fears and insecurities. The cast was also able to flawlessly and effortlessly take on their characters’ traits; since Dunham wrote the script, and based it on her life, they were more easily able to understand how she wanted them to portray their characters. Since the movie is more character-based, as opposed to plot-driven, featuring actors who understand the screenwriter-director’s mindset definitely helped make the characters believable and relatable.
While ‘Tiny Furniture’ is really supposed to showcase Dunham’s talents as an actress as well, Kirke easily stole the spotlight from her in every scene she’s in. While Charlotte is arrogant and self-centered, Kirke was still able to make her likeable, as she didn’t take herself too seriously. She readily admits that she feels entitled, and doesn’t feel any shame about it, to the point where she, and the audience, can laugh about it. Kirke naturally brings humor to her character, which balances Aura’s serious, helpless side. The audience will almost definitely wish Charlotte had a bigger role, to forget about Aura constantly feeling belittled. The movie’s studio, IFC Fims, definitely got it right when it described Charlotte’s “constant attention and indulgent lifestyle…addictive.”
‘Tiny Furniture’s semi-autobiographical take on Dunham’s own life, including her desire to become a successful screenwriter and director, will definitely resonate with recent college graduates. It accurately portrays the fear of failure of every recent college graduate who doesn’t have a job in their chosen field. While Aura’s whining gets to be a bit excessive, college graduates will understand her need to not only be accepted by her professional and social peers, but their successful parents and over-achieving siblings as well.
While the movie only takes place over a few weeks, most viewers will likely want to see Aura start to mature and take on more responsibility. The fact that she doesn’t feel the need to change, and is quick to blame everyone for what’s wrong in her life, proves that she’s still naive. Being a character-driven film, it would have been nice to see Aura initiate change in, or at least want to change, her current circumstances.
The comedy definitely deserved to win the Jury Prize for Best Narrative after premiering at the SXSW Film Festival in March 2010. ‘Tiny Furniture’ is only Dunham’s second full-length feature, and is the first time she worked with professional producers and a paid crew. Dunham proved she what a great director, writer and actress she already is by feeling comfortable enough to parody herself on screen. ‘Tiny Furniture’ is definitely one of the top independent movies to look for this year.
Written by: Karen Benardello