Tiny Furniture

May 21, 2012 No Comments

Mumblecore has been used to describe a number of recent  films created with a naturalist style using  typical   indie low budget techniques (usually digital shooting and amateur actors).  The dialogue is central  in these verbally driven films, a style applauded as “spontaneous and real” or scorned  with a shrug as “meh.”

Director Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” is a 2010 mumblecore gem that focuses on the Goldilocksesque story of a recent college grad (also played by Dunham) jettisoned into the real world armed only with her degree in (you guessed it) film studies.  Unemploy(able?), Aura moves back home to live with her successful artist mother (played by Dunham’s real mom) and teenage sister (also played by her real sister) and ponders ways to write her novel.  Freshly jilted by her college boyfriend, she stumbles through her life with little direction, piling up bad decisions in relationships, with little indication that she learns from her mistakes.  Dunham has created a twenty something character who seems to possess a combination of childlike naivete and war weary cynicism.  Dunham is an astute observer of the external and internal events in Aura’s life.  We may not like her, but we feel for her (sometimes self imposed) suffering.  Mother-daughter interactions have never seemed more enmeshed (some have compared the film to Aranofsky’s Black Swan).  There is no mention of a father.

The film cost only $50,000 to make, in part because it was actually shot on location inside Dunham’s family home, adding an additional layer of blurring between fantasy and reality in an already incestuous film.  What will happen to Aura?  Is she destined to play a pudgy second place to her willowy sister?  (It is interesting that Dunham has gained fame and success via her story about the difficulty in achieving fame and success).  In fact, Dunham is currently writing and starring in an HBO series entitled “Girls,” an elaboration of the “Tiny Furniture” story with minor changes.  The episodes are well-written and the themes are edgy (sadomasochism, abortion, cluelessness).  Nudity and sex are on constant display (Dunham has no qualms about this and it is HBO) as Hannah (no longer Aura) struggles to define herself.  The cast of supporting characters are also interesting and provide more than stereotypic foils for the star.

Self absorbed navel gazing?  Of course.  But perceptive, poignant and creative navel gazing.  Top notch mumblecore. Meh.        Jolyn Wagner

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