Nothing happens, but "Tiny Furniture" hits on many Millennial truths
The saga of the Millennial college graduate who moves back home and begins a maddening search for direction — that's what Lena Dunham sets off to depict in "Tiny Furniture" and she does it in the most Millennial way possible: completely DIY including casting her mother and sister to play — her mother and sister.
Dunham captures the mundanity of post-undergrad life at home, even though her character Aura's life is a little more unusual; home is a Manhattan loft where mom (Laurie Simmons) is an a photographer/visual artist (she actually is in real life) of solid notoriety. Sister Nadine (Grace Dunham) lives there too, but she's in the no-pressure zone of high school. There isn't so much a plot synopsis as a list of friends new and old and other influences who make Aura's new life as a young adult and dreams of becoming a successful artist complicated and messy.
The authenticity of Dunham's voice as a writer rings clear. A lot of it is the semi- autobiographical form; it's impossible for any peers watching (and maybe some a little older) not to relate in some way to Aura's "struggle." It might be nice if more stuff happened in the film instead of a whole lot of stuff that could be stuff but doesn't ever become stuff, but there's also something refreshing about taking it in as a contemporary portrait of an emerging generation. Also, you could argue that there's a certain poetic truth to the fact that nothing really happens.
The "action" is how Aura navigates internal and external pressures. Everyone around her, for example, seems to have found a measure of success. Her mother, for one, has been successful forever; she meets a successful-ish YouTube star in Jed (Alex Karpovsky) who's talking to networks about a TV show and even her sister was recognized nationally for her poetry, which Aura can't help but demean. Then there's her oldest childhood friend, Charlotte (Jemima Kirke, Dunham's actually oldest childhood friend) who sports the couldn't-care-less attitude that plays in contrast to it all.
Aura's first foray into the "real world" involves getting a job, since that's what people are supposed to do, but of course being a daytime closed-hours hostess at a restaurant is a far cry from her aspirations, even though she seems to believe its in her best interest. Throughout the course of the film, Dunham exposes a bit more of Aura's psychology, namely the complex nature of her relationship to her family and home in the specific and broadest sense.
Done for as low a budget as possible, the actors here are all amateurs but it doesn't show. Dunham's strength is obviously her writing, but she's a sufficient stand in for the average 22-year-old, and as a director, she makes the most of it with some interesting shot framing to bring varying perspectives to the talk-heavy action.
"Tiny Furniture" is a really impressive debut for a fledgling filmmaker, especially one whose talent is writing and simply needed to round up a cast and crew to realize her story into some kind of finished product. It could certainly use a plot, but Dunham is able to effectively touch on the melange of post-college emotions in the 21st century in a way that's yet to be articulated, and which she effectively continued to expound upon in her HBO series "Girls," which this movie made possible.
Dunham recognizes the complexity of her generation. There is a self-centered component, there's a familial dependency, but there's also a mixed bag of influences and life philosophies that can take hold of the wheel at any moment. We are pitiable and pitiful, lost yet driven, naive and all too aware of how the world works.
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