Film-maker Lena Dunham has been building a following in the US for a few years now and with the imminent release of a new TV series, Girls, which will be shown on the prestigious HBO in the US, her 2010 film Tiny Furniture is getting a cinema release here in the UK.
Upon returning to New York with no plans after completing her film theory degree Dunham moved in with her mother and younger sister in their plush apartment in the trendy Tribeca area of Manhattan where she decided that her plan would be to make a film about a girl who returns to New York with no plans and moves in with her mother and younger sister in their Tribeca apartment. Tiny Furniture is the result.
Not very imaginative, perhaps, but the result is actually pretty good. Casting herself as the girl, Aura, her mother as Aura’s mother her younger sister as Aura’s younger sister, and her mother’s apartment as Aura’s mother’s apartment, the line between truth and fiction is quite blurry. Clearly the events of the film are scripted but the off-screen relationships bring a reality to the interactions on-screen – the scenes where the sisters are antagonising each other are spot on and particularly enjoyable.
Similar to Kate Tempest’s play Wasted that we reviewed last week, this film looks at that strange stage of life between the end of youth (be it leaving school or leaving university) and the highs and lows of searching for whatever comes next, the search for a place in the world when “growing up” turns out to be slightly disappointing.
Appropriately then, nothing much actually happens in Tiny Furniture – Aura goes to a party, meets a guy (a minor YouTube celebrity), reconnects with a spoilt rich-girl from her youth, drinks her mum’s wine, gets a pointless job, meets a different guy and that’s about it. Yes, she’s clueless and self-absorbed but somehow you still end up rooting for Aura and a lot of the humour (there are many funny moments) derives from how ridiculous she and her peers are.
Dunham seems to inspire praise and vitriol in equal measure, usually most passionately from the people most like here (twenty-something city-dwelling indie-kids and hipsters) who feel either that she has captured and expressed something of the uniqueness of being a twenty-something at this time or conversely that she has nothing interesting to say at all. Watching Tiny Furniture, it struck me that perhaps one of the things she is saying in the film is that, as a twenty-something living in an affluent part of Manhattan, working a menial job and spending her time at parties with people in a similar situation, she doesn’t have much to say that is meaningful right now nor, with our modern awareness of our individual smallness in the world and the current economic situation, much hope of ever having so. In a sense this is the cry of at least a part of this generation (that everything’s a mess so what’s the point?), but I imagine the response from other generations will continue to be an unsympathetic ear – “Stop whining and get a job”.
Tiny Furniture is showing at The Watershed for at least another week…