SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 28, 2010
Director: Lena Dunham
Writer: Lena Dunham
Starring: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, David Call, Alex Karpovsky, Jemima Kirke, Merritt Wever, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Amy Seimetz, and Garland Hunter
Aura (Lena Dunham) arrives home – with a film theory degree and no job prospects – to her mother Siri’s (Laurie Simmons) Tribeca artist loft as her 17-year old sister Nadine (Grace Dunham) prepares to pick which college she will be attending next fall. (With unbridled self-reflexivity, Dunham and her real life mother and sister are essentially playing themselves.) Siri is a famous photographer (of miniatures – primarily furniture, hence the title of this film) and it might be said that her two daughters are a wee bit spoiled and selfish.
Even when Aura eventually finds a job – as an off-hours “hostess” (read: receptionist) for a neighborhood restaurant – she seems to expect appreciation, or at least acknowledgement, from Siri and Nadine that she is dutifully contributing to the household. Aura does not seem to realize that her measly paycheck is barely a contribution – and we never see her even offer to contribute towards the household expenses.
Aura just wants to coast for a while in life – maybe even try to find herself – before jumping into the real world. Choosing a career or moving into an apartment would be too big of a step for her. Aura just couldn’t handle that. Her excuse for staying at her mother’s apartment is that her mother needs her, with Nadine going away to college and all. This is a stressful time for Aura – she just graduated from college and her hippie boyfriend just dumped her (in order to build a shrine in Colorado) – and she wants sympathy from someone…anyone. Please feel sorry for Aura. Please!
Then, Aura meets Jed (Alex Karpovsky) – a semi-famous You Tube celebrity (known for videos in which he quotes Nietzsche while riding a rocking horse) who is visiting NYC to negotiate a deal for a new television series. (Aura also has a presence on You Tube – an all too revealing, at least according to the viewer comments, video of herself in a bikini standing in a fountain). Aura is obviously smitten, but Jed is a fairly aloof and unreadable kind of guy. One thing we notice is that Jed does seem like the type of guy who is able to get things from women for free – I think it has something to do with his overwhelming self-confidence. Jed is either truly poor or just a moocher; nevertheless, Aura invites him to crash at her mother’s place. Essentially, they both get what they need out of the deal: Jed – a nice and convenient place to crash in Manhattan, with free food to boot; Aura – some attention, though not the sexual kind that she craves.
Simultaneously, Aura severely crushes on the hot chef, Keith (David Call), at her place of employment. It is obvious to the audience that Keith sees an opportunity to get in Aura’s pants – and maybe that’s all Aura wants from him. Keith’s possessive girlfriend keeps him on a very tight leash, as a result of other sexual trysts, so Aura all but gives up on that action. That is until they get high together and discover the pipe…
It is the very little (tiny) things that make Tiny Furniture something very special: Jed riding the rocking horse; Aura in the fountain; the white cabinets; the pipe scene (which is simultaneously humorous, depressing and pathetic); the communication (or lack there of) between the characters. Tiny Furniture could be superficially interpreted as a film about a bunch of privileged white people complaining about how difficult their lives are; but in true ethnographic style Dunham cleverly withholds any judgments of her own, allowing the viewer to examine the characters’ motives and make decisions on their own.
Dunham has earned some comparisons to Woody Allen for her eagerness in utilizing her personal insecurities for both philosophical and comedic purposes – in other words Tiny Furniture appears to be Dunham’s representation of what it is like to feel unattractive. I suspect that is the primary reason why Dunham won the SXSW 2010 Narrative Feature Film Jury Award and SXSW 2010 Chicken & Egg Emergent Narrative Woman Director Award for Tiny Furniture.