Lena Dunham's TINY FURNITURE
Lena Dunham’s TINY FURNITURE premiered at SXSW this year, and I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Alamo Draft House for the premiere screening. It’s an understatement to say that I’m pleased to be reporting on a young woman director’s launch with a beautifully crafted coming-of-age piece, terrain usually reserved for the boys — the ones who annoyed me all through film school with their sense of aw-I-just-threw-it-together-it-was-nothing entitlement. Bravo, Lena!
Lena plays a version of herself in the film, as do her mother and sister. Her screen self, Aura, has just graduated from college in Ohio (Oberlin, perhaps? Kenyon?) and returns to New York City with ‘nothing’ – a useless film theory degree, minimal hits on her MySpace page, and no professional prospects to speak of. It doesn’t help her state of mind that her sister is a genius and her mother appears to be Manhattan’s most successful photographer, judging by the size and quality of her loft. As Aura reconnects with high school friends and begins work taking reservations at the restaurant down the street, she embarks on a series of interactions with young men who give the gift that keeps on giving … careless disregard for her, selfishness for themselves … rejection overall.
Not that these guys are painted as total assholes. On the contrary, they are charming and witty, and Aura does little to stop a human progression toward taking from her what they can – space in the loft (a guy moves in), a piece of ass (the most original NYC outdoor sex scene to date). And Aura is offering it up – on all fronts – in an attempt to simply be embraced. Aura is searching recklessly for the kind of validation she thinks she needs to make her into an adult, without realizing how stomped upon she is truly becoming, and how silly she is in her desperate acts of acting out. And not that she’s painted as pathetic – in fact, it’s absolutely recognizable. Never before have I seen such a nuanced portrait of a young woman apologizing for who she is, and painted in way that invokes not pity, but the confidence that she’ll move through and beyond a particular stage. This understanding is aided tremendously by the strength of the woman closest in proximity, her mother.
Including as a dramatic element her mother’s journals from her twenties was a brilliant choice, illuminating the process of human development (this is a stage!) and demonstrating how another vulnerable young woman (said mother) turned out to be a confident and successful artist. Will Aura be able to get it together? Professionally, yes. We know she’ll find a path with that kind of education and Manhattan-uber-connected resources. She’s driven, we sense, and wants a career. Will she be able to find a relationship? We hope. Even though the role modeling stops short on that end – her own mother appears to be single – we sense that Aura is on her way.
Shot on a still camera, the Canon 7D (excellent for night exteriors), the frame here functions beautifully as a reminder of Aura’s state. Check out the trailer below – it’s a great example of how this locked down look, artfully composed, somehow manages to get to the chaos brewing just underneath the surface. A familiar surface to any young woman who has been in her 20s before, educated but feeling utterly lost.