SXSW 2010 Review: TINY FURNITURE
Editor's note: This review was originally published as a SXSW festival review on March 23, 2010.
Writer/Director: Lena Dunham
Cast: Lena Dunham, David Call, Alex Karpovsky, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Merritt Wever
You get the feeling when watching Lena Dunham’s TINY FURNITURE that the filmmaker’s story comes from experience. The story follows twentysomething college grad Aura (Dunham) as she returns to her Tribeca home. Freshly dumped by her collegiate boyfriend she moves in with her successful artist mother (Laurie Simmons) and her overachieving sister (Grace Dunham) as she figures out her next step. As the old adage goes, “you can never go home again," and coming home for Aura is not at all what she’s been expecting. Aura returns to find her mother is distant and consumed by her own work and her sister is hostile when she sees that her territory is being threatened.
The events and circumstances of TINY FURNITURE aren’t exactly earth shattering when you hold them up to the events going on in this world. What I mean to say, is Aura’s problems are decidedly first world and come from a life of privilege. She has just graduated from school with a degree in Film Theory, she can’t think of any sort of employment that wont suck the soul out of her, she has taken up with childhood friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) who wants to drag her around to various parties at all hours of the night, and she is torn between two men: Jed (Alex Karpovsky) an interweb celeb and the physically attractive and surprisingly literate sous-chef Keith (David Call) at the restaurant where she is working as a part-time hostess. Both of whom seem uninterested in her.
When you line those up against the goings on in this world, these problems don’t seem like much. But as a recent college graduate and someone who has been there, TINY FURNITURE hits the nail on the head. What could have easily become a whiny tale of privileged youth, is endearing and compelling.
This is in part due to Dunham’s willingness to portray her character in unflattering ways. From walking around in underwear and supportive garments to making poor decisions when it comes to guys, Aura is obviously intelligent but she doesn’t always make the best decisions. For example, letting Jed crash at her mother’s home while she is out of town. Or going out on a date with Keith even though he has a girlfriend and has stood her up before--- and both of these situations end in rather hilarious outcomes.
Which leads me to another point about this film. It balances comedy and drama quite well, often resulting in scenes that are heartbreakingly sad and gut wrenchingly humorous at the same time. The dialogue is smart, witty and at times biting-- all while helping to move along a story that seems to perfectly capture just how adrift the postgraduate malaise can feel.
Dunham casts her real life mother and sister to play dramatized versions of themselves, so it is no surprise this film is such a hit when all hands are on deck from such a talented family of artists. Juxtaposed with actors in all the other roles, the film has a natural air about it that makes you feel that you are watching a documentary rather than a narrative film. Aura doesn’t have all the answers, she is still figuring things out. And at the film’s conclusion, she is only slightly better off than where she started.
Tying this all together is the stunningly beautiful photography work by Jody Lee Lipes. The film is crisp and feels very clean, especially in the interior shots of the Tribeca loft Aura shares with her family. Where other indies shot on similar budgets may have lost something on production value, this film excels.