Tiny Furniture (IFC Films, NR)

Tiny Furniture is the type of American independent film that makes you wonder where it came from, and how people came to take notice of it.

 

 

Most of the press Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture has gotten so far is related to the circumstances of its filming: it stars 24-year-old writer/director Dunham as 22-year-old Aura, it was shot in her family home, with her real-life mother Laurie Simmons playing her mother in the film and her real-life sister Grace Dunham playing her little sister Nadine in the film. Beyond how weird/precious that all is, Tiny Furniture is an almost Welcome to the Dollhouse-style film, with its main character Aura intentionally portrayed so unflatteringly that it’s hard to imagine anyone who sees the film liking her, even if we can all secretly identify with her. So why would Dunham do this to herself? Don’t movie actresses want to be glamorous?

Well fuck that. Tiny Furniture is interesting because Dunham’s not glamorous. There isn’t a whole lot of conflict in this movie aside from that which Aura creates for herself, and the plot takes off with her returning to her mom and sister’s TriBeCa apartment after earning her Bachelor’s at a university in Ohio. Upon arriving home she basically reverts to what we can assume her life was like pre-college, with all of its failures and awkwardness of growing up. Aura picks dumb fights with Nadine (who gets a great scene chewing Aura out after she shows her ass—both literally and figuratively—at a party Nadine was throwing), throws herself at various boys who could not be less interested in her, takes a crappy job as a hostess at a nearby restaurant and hangs out with her irritating childhood friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke).

Tiny Furniture is the type of American independent film that makes you wonder where it came from, and how people came to take notice of it. It’s a hard sell based on its description, as illustrated above, and it’s slow-paced enough to probably not grab festival programmers with their fingers on the fast forward button. As it happens, this particular film, which at one time would have been a quintessential Sundance film, had its premiere and was discovered at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, which has been picking up Sundance’s slack for some time now. SXSW has also been reliably premiering the work of director Andrew Bujalski (specifically 2005’s Mutual Appreciation and 2009’s Beeswax), whose films seem to have been quite an influence on Tiny Furniture. Parallels abound, from its new American independent tone, to the writer/director casting themselves in a completely thankless role, to the casting of Alex Karpovsky. Karpovsky was in Bujalski’s Beeswax and is great in Tiny Furniture as Jed, a YouTube celebrity who is one of the aforementioned boys Aura unsuccessfully throws herself at.

Liking Tiny Furniture requires more of its viewers than most films do—you will have to want to see the type of person films usually ignore (or relegate to small roles in unfunny Hollywood comedies) explored in detail, and you’ll have to have patience for a film that is dialogue-heavy and has relatively low production values. That is to say, Tiny Furniture requires you to have a brain and an imagination, where most films would prefer you have neither. | Pete Timmermann

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