‘Tiny Furniture’: a harsh humorous stare into the mirror
January 4, 2011
Though I noted my top albums of last year already, do not expect to see my top films of this year anytime soon (I do not predict to have my top 20 films of 2010 posted until February). As usual, Miami is way behind other major cities when it comes to new releases in the theater, my preferred venue for movies.
Only last weekend did Miami host the latest of indie cinema’s 2010 buzz films, Tiny Furniture. The University of Miami’s Cosford Cinema played host to the feature debut by young newcomer Lena Dunham. I had heard about this movie for months now. The director, who plays the lead character Aura, shows merciless aplomb as she casts a harsh light on those who dare seek liberal arts degrees in the current economic climate.
Dunham also cast her own mother, New York City-based artist Laurie Simmons, as the mother, Siri, and her younger sister Grace Dunham as no less than the protagonist’s sister, Nadine. The heroine of this tale happens to have just graduated with a degree in Film Theory from some unnamed University in Ohio. She returns to the Tribeca studio/apartment of her baby boomer mother with seemingly no future. Her university work has wound up on YouTube to garner a few hundred hits and harsh comments more interested in her girth than any meaning in her work.
As she tries to find some direction post-college, Aura crashes at her old home and takes a job as a hostess at a restaurant, which a friend helps her obtain. In the meantime, she struggles with aimless, pathetic relationships with young men who seem even more directionless in their oblivious nature to their own douche-itude. While away from men, Aura tangles with her mother and sister and a childhood pal, Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) ready to bring her down to more aimless living with her pot-smoking, sexuality and shopaholism.
The only problem I had with this movie was the wooden, self-conscious acting among the actors. As much as I love independent film, you often have to forgive shortcomings in acting and oftentimes, pacing. But Dunham presents the scenes at a tight, restrained pace. The dialogue never drags. Raw, witty banter, based on a scary amount of truth, fills every scene. As soon, as Aura arrives home Nadine is on her case. “I just got off a plane from Ohio. I’m in a post-graduate delirium,” Aura tells her teenage sister.
“I think you sound like you’re in the epilogue to ‘Felicity,’” retorts Nadine, a high school senior with a poetry award for her anti-poem poem and her whole college future ahead of her. The re-introduction of the newly minted college grad back to the family captures the current zeitgeist for young adults in compact, potent form, not too far off to the malaise of post-grad doldrums explored by the Graduate in the late sixties . Though Dunham is no Dustin Hoffman as an actress, her writing certainly is on par with Buck Henry’s skill.
Throughout the film, Dunham spares no one, least of all herself, she fearlessly films her overweight body in many an unflattering angle and often times sans pants. It’s that kind of humility that brings out the truth and dark humor in stories. Dunham knows how to harness the power of shamelessness while remaining humble. It’s a daring line to walk, and so few young directors have any clue where to find it (often times they have their back to it). Dunham’s strong stare in the mirror deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it. It has rightfully opened some great doors for her (including work with Judd Apatow, her low-brow male counterpart, if there ever was one). Hopefully she will carry on in Hollywood without compromise.
Tiny Furniture is unrated and starts tonight, Tuesday, at the Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and runs through Thursday. It is supposedly playing again at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, Friday, Jan. 7, but call: 305-673-4567, just in case, as I do not see that the new venue is open yet.