Back when I first heard about this film I had no idea who or what a Lena Dunham was and so I skipped the screening. Since then i’ve been seeking a schooling, thanks mostly to the announcement that HBO had picked up the auteurs pilot Girls, a show that seems at least to be somewhat of a sequel to this films story. That i’m not sure about this usually blatant bit of information says a lot about Dunham’s divisive style of filmmaking, primarily the way that she makes her movies so indistinguishable from her own reality. Tiny Furniture is a film about a female post-grad who moves back into her mothers house to live while she figures her life out: Dunham plays the lead, cast her mother and sister in the roles of her mother and sister and shot the film in her mother’s actual loft just after, yes, graduating. It’s tough for us to figure out where the line should be drawn between whats real and whats written but Dunham seems to keep it held quite straight; her film never feels self-obsessed or documentarian, just so genuine that by the end of it you feel that you know this woman better than you do most of your own friends.
This is going to sound incredibly condescending but i’m actually being genuine when I say it: Lena Dunham knows women and depicts them much better than the vast majority of filmmakers out there, regardless of their gender. If it wasn’t already the title of her TV show I might have suggested that Girls would have been a better lead in for this effort than its current name. The film focuses, if in fact that is the right word to use in this modern mumblecore style, on female relationships: on what it is like to be a sister, mother, daughter, girlfriend, best friends and every other iteration of woman in today’s world and though this should feel overly familiar its actually fascinating thanks to the singular nature of its execution. As a straight male this isn’t a world that I ever get to actually see – it’s as foreign to me as the Arabian peninsulas or the Serengeti of Africa – because as soon as a guy enters its vicinity this particular place evaporates, but here the private is presented with purity; there is no facade to fall back behind, in many cases quite literally there aren’t even any clothes to hide in.
Like those lands i mentioned earlier there is an underside to the beauty,though the life is a priveliged one it is not without it’s pressures, and this is why Dunham’s daring depiction is so important, she obviously hasn’t set out to glamorize the lives of those girls she puts on display. In this time of open opportunity, when anyone can do anything, it’s almost impossible not to just spend your time doing nothing ( by say watching movies and writing about them on a blog) and this apathy is at the centre of the picture, which is a really a mediation on the selfish and ungrateful nature of our generation, because if we’re being honest that’s what we are. Dunham straddles the line between satire and self-loathing with this film; never condoning that style of life but not completely condemning it either, she realizes that it is both wrong and unavoidable and treats it as such. So if you’re someone who cannot relate at all to Aura ( her name is one of the moreobvious digs as the self involved nature of new age life, and it is also one shared by her character in Girls, thus the assumed linkage) then you can at least laugh at the girl, whilst the rest of us cry with her.
Aura should be an atrocious lead, entirely insufferable but instead it is the latter of those two aforementioned options that is the more likely and this is again due to the honesty of her portrayal. Aura is a real person – whether or not that person is Lena Dunham is besides the point – and so we treat her like we would someone that we met in real life, which for most of us non-sociopaths is kindly. This fact is proven in a way through comparison; the supporting characters that surround her, all of whom are inherently interesting, are capped at well written, never quite making that same leap. For those wondering, yes there is a difference. While we empathize with Aura we don’t always understand or enjoy her as well; the others on the other hand are easy enough to understand but our interest never delves any deeper and so we don’t develop an emotional bond with them. For a feature this is fine, ideal in fact, but I wonder how Dunham will deal with writing for a show, specifically whether or not she will be able to write four equally compelling leads when only one of them is herself. That though is another issue for another time.
In the trailer for Girls Aura utters the line “ I feel like i’m the voice of my generation… Or a voice… of a generation,” and as far as i’m concerned she needn’t have tried to hide the truth beneath false modesty. Yes Lena could likely have called this a documentary and gotten away with it, but that obviously doesn’t in any way render its contents untrue. Though many may write this film off as pretentious or self-pandering or hurl words like “egotistical” and “indulgent” at its maker they aren’t in any way disproving this point, in fact they are actually helping define it; whether you like it or not Tiny Furniture is indicative of my life and the life of nearly everyone I know. I daresay that she could have stuck the camera in any number of lives and found a film that told much the same story, but without her specific stylings it likely wouldn’t have been half as funny or moving. This isn’t a masterpiece but it is pervaded with a unique potential that her next effort will hopefully work to elucidate.