Introspective Introspection…Et al.
Starring: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons
Written by Robert Patrick
After I watched Lena Dunham’s film, I was doing a juggling act: should I give this three stars out of five? Wait, no, two stars? One star? I was thinking about so many different numbers I may as well have been playing a game of Sudoku. Finally, after long periods of unnecessary strain, I decided to give this film four stars. Phew. There is something wholly endearing about Dunham’s picture that isn’t really tactile. The premise is about as flat as a carving board and with just about as many blemishes on the surface of it. The story is about a girl named Aura whom decides to move back in with her emotionally vapid mother and her Daria-like sister. This, Aura admits to, isn’t exactly the springboard from which she had initially visioned after graduating from college. The twenty-something indulgence is clipped up on a clothesline for the world to see, of course, as Aura mopes about, her hair frazzled as a Troll doll, as she steps into an existential quandary. Half of my readers, from that description alone, have stopped reading this review; this means that I have four of you left, shall we carry on? Good, then. Aura spends her listless time shifting her unenthusiastic feet across the sterile floors of her family’s house/studio (her mother is a famous photographer that, as you may now know from the title of the film, snaps pictures of “tiny furniture”). Our protagonist wades through the obligatory young-person’s funk: “What should I do with my life?”, “I haven’t a boyfriend!”, and, my favorite of the complaints, “Why cant I go into my mother’s room when she isn’t home?!” I have to remind everyone that I am not making fun of these things, as they are perfectly accessible worries for someone of that age (and maybe even older).
Lena Dunham is great. Maybe that will be a pull quote on this film’s poster someday. Really, I’m not trying to thread feathers into her cap, but Lena Dunham is great. In her early twenties she wrote, directed and starred in her own film (this film). It’s a picture about things that her generation – my generation – can relate to (faux-independence and lack of sustainable confidence being a few of them). The episodic nature of Aura’s slice-of-life activities is met with dry wit and laborious struggle. If you have seen and enjoy Noah Baumbach or Wes Anderson films, you may find yourself thinking that “Tiny Furniture” is an affable microcosm of those styles. Other people, when I mention this, may want to start filling a moat with piranhas so that this feature never gets to them – and that’s fine; I’m not one of those individuals, but I can understand it all the same.
The set design is pretty fantastic in “Tiny Furniture”, though it stays in the realm of a kind of chalky, aspirin-white. Everything looks like you’re staring at the surface of the moon (and maybe that’s the point, after all). There is a great scene in the movie where Aura asks where a specific item in the house is. Her mom, in an indifferent response, tells her to “check the white cabinet.” The trouble is that every cabinet is white, all twenty of them. Aura proceeds to looks up at them all, in amazement and defeat, as she opens each and every single cabinet en route to finding this one inconsequential thing. That scene is indicative of the entire character’s existence: every time she wants to find something simple in her life, whether it be a goal or a boyfriend, it ends up being a repetitious and monotonous battle. Lena Dunham perfectly captures the angst and frustration of young adult life.
There are other great lines and scenes in this film that I want to rattle off like an excitable snake, but I will refrain from doing so in this particular forum (as a fan of food and movies, I realize that spoilers suck). This is one of my top ten movies of the year, which may infuriate some people whose goals are to be human bobbleheads when it comes to giving nods to bigger films with more “important” subject matter. Whatever. “Tiny Furniture” is like another movie of self-discovery this year called “Cairo Time”, only all of the exploration and introspection isn’t pretty and indulgent, it’s often times stuffy and full of pot holes that aren’t nearly as exciting – but that’s what makes it real. “Tiny Furniture”, I salute you.