DVD Review - Tiny Furniture

Lena Dunham has been drawing headlines recently for her HBO series Girls. The TV show is almost an extension of what Dunham established in her independent film Tiny Furniture. Dunham reveals in a conversation with Nora Ephron on the Criterion Collection DVD that a lot of that movie is informed by filmmakers like Ephron and Woody Allen. Even though I would hesitate to describe this as such, mainly because of its smooth and steady aesthetics, this movie shares some aspects with the so-called Mumblecore.

Filmmakers under the banner of Mumblecore don't like that term, but one of the aspects they share is that their films are frequently autobiographical and their focuses have been on twenty-something people experiencing what's been dubbed a quarter-life crisis. It's basically a mid-life crisis but one that happens in your twenties when you don't know what direction you should take or you lose sight of what's important or even what you truly want.

Mumblecore movies have been marked because the filmmakers have been in their twenties. Their work have been very cheaply produced with often improvised dialogue and improvised camera operation, akin to a documentary. Dunham's movie doesn't do that. Her camerawork here is opposite. It's still, deliberate, and more effective. It's nothing complicated, but, one early scene features Lena Dunham and her sister Grace Dunham in one shot separated by a wall for a natural split screen effect that reveals the current nature of their relationship beautifully.

As I said, often Mumblecore movies are autobiographical or at least taken from the filmmaker's own life to some degree. Lena Dunham plays Aura, a college student in Ohio studying film who returns to her mother's Manhattan home where her younger sister, Nadine, still lives. Nadine is played by Dunham's real-life sister, Grace Dunham. A lot of the relationship on screen is fictionalized but the potential for verisimilitude increases.

The movie proceeds as a character study. There is no driving plot to convey. It's mainly a brief look at Aura's work life and dating life, and how that relates to the dynamic between herself and her mom, Siri, played by Laurie Simmons. Her mom is a photographer but she has miniature models replete with tiny furniture, possibly representing a dedication and a passion for art that Aura doesn't but wishes she had.

The problem is that despite seeming like a smart and confident, young woman, the guys in Aura's life or the ones with whom she associates don't make a lot of sense unless there is some kind of deep-rooted esteem issue. The two guys in particular to whom she gets close both use her either financially or sexually. She almost seems content with it, but her mom isn't or at least she isn't with what she knows about it.

There is one scene that Aura has with a guy that encompasses many of the moments in this movie. Going further than Lie With Me (2005), which was an extremely more explicit film, Aura has sex with a restaurant chef inside a thin, aluminum pipe. In Lie With Me, the two main characters expose themselves and tease the potential for intercourse inside a plastic tube on a playground. It's very sexy, but it doesn't go full throttle. Dunham's scene does, but, instead of being titillating, it's awkward and weird, as it's meant to be.

Even in scenes that don't involve sex, this might be what Dunham is trying to say. Intimate relationships or familial ones are occasionally, if not often, awkward and weird. Dunham's script might not have all the witty one-liners of Woody Allen, or even the overt situational comedy of Ephron, but her film is infused with much humor, banking off the awkward and weird predicament of it all. Yet, Dunham wonderfully gets at the truth of that predicament and helps us to see into it.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.


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