Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lena Dunham's TINY FURNITURE visits a very specific period in a young woman's life

What's it like for a girl/woman -- post-college but pre-career -- to be back at home with mom and younger sister, in that fraught period just before "life" is supposed to begin? Not pretty, according to the new film by writer/director/star Lena Dunham, but very amusing, nasty, fragile and real. In TINY FURNITURE, the first full-length feature from Dunham (her Creative Non-Fiction runs only 60 minutes), the filmmaker/actress envelops us in the life of this young woman with surprising finesse and a rather remarkable ability to show us her character, Aura, as a full-bodied (literally and figuratively) gal, with as many bad points as good.

Perhaps intentionally, or at least intuitively, Dunham (shown at right) spends the first half of her film pulling us into Aura's life from her point of view, encouraging us to identify with her and take her side. Almost exactly at the halfway point, she allows our heroine to seemingly and rather suddenly collapse into an overly-needy, selfish, whiny little drip who's having major trouble growing up. Aura becomes more and more annoying, making one obvious mistake after another, but as we've come to understand her and care abut her, we follow along, murmuring "Gheesh!" just under our breath.

Tiny Furniture is perhaps of the mumblecore genre -- concerned as it is with love, art (taking the place of music) and success -- but if so, it is m'core handled with spunk and a firmer hand than usual. It's also very urban, politically incorrect and full of interesting characters, drawn smartly and well (with but a few strokes, screenplay-wise), using actors who very nicely fill their roles.

These people -- like the sous chef, played by David Call, shown above and below or the would-be comedian/performance artist played by m'core vet Alex Karpovsky (two photos up) -- are quirky all right, but they're quirky in the way that real people are: Their oddities -- a part, rather than the whole, of their characters -- push up against the necessities of their lives to make a more enriching reality, rather than the faux-though-funny version of quirky people that films (both independent and mainstream) so often present.

Mr. Karpovsky, by the way, is excellent, as usual, nailing another semi-sleazy, go-to guy who'll take full advantage of whatever girl and/or situation is at hand. The entire cast is quite good, with Dunhan's real-life mom (Laurie Simmons, shown below) and sister (Grace Dunham) playing their roles with absolute surety and a fine sense of that extra little snap that "performance" demands.

This movie may be slight -- little really happens during this short section of Aura's road to adulthood -- but it has been filmed extremely well (Jody Lee Lipes, fresh from this past Monday's post, is the fine cinematographer) and some of its dialog is simply terrific. By the very real, half-asleep, sad and hopeful mom-and-daughter conversation that closes the film, I think you'll feel -- slight movie or not -- that you've lived through something.

Tiny Furniture, from IFC Films, opens tomorrow, November 12, in NYC at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles on November 26 (TM can't locate the L.A. theater venue, however).

All photos are from the film itself, except the shot of Dunham, second from top, by Richard Koek, courtesy of Filmmaker Magazine.

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