out of Five
Running time: 98
Entertaining, sharply observed and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, this is a superbly written character study with a terrific, vanity-free performance from Lena Dunham that makes us warm to her character even as we recognise her more obnoxious traits.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by and starring Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture centres on Aura (Dunham), a recent graduate from a prestigious Midwest liberal arts college who returns home to New York and moves in with her photo-artist mother Sin (Laurie Simmons, Dunham's real-life artist mother) and her precocious, poetry prize-winning (not to mention taller and prettier) younger sister Nadine (Grace Dunham, Lena's real-life sister), in Sin's chic Soho studio loft apartment. After the familiar post-graduate period of lying around doing nothing all day, Aura is urged to get a job so she starts work as a daytime hostess at a Soho restaurant and begins a flirtation with attached soux chef Keith (David Call).
Meanwhile, Aura reconnects with her slightly crazy, British-sounding old friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), who persuades her to contribute her slightly exhibitionistic YouTube videos (one shows her washing in the campus fountain, in her underwear) to an art installation. And when Aura meets “YouTube star” Jed (Alex Karpovsky), whose speciality is political rants while seated on a rocking horse, she invites him to crash at her place while her mother and sister are out of town, though her romantic designs on him don't quite pan out the way she expected.
Dunham is superb as Aura, delivering a self-consciously introspective performance that feels painfully real, all of which is heightened by her shrewd casting of her own mother and sister (both excellent); consequently, her tantrum scene is excruciating to watch (and perfectly punctuated by Nadine's reaction once Aura is out of the room). What's intriguing is that, unlike other recent films about quirky young artistic types, we're not invited to fall in love with Aura (indeed, her behaviour is often appalling), but we can't help recognising certain elements of ourselves in her, particularly in her inept seduction attempts and her frustrations with her family.
The dialogue is extremely well written and frequently hilarious, throwing up gems such as “I hope you don't think less of me because I fucked you in a pipe ...”; there's also a very obvious attempt at a Woody Allen vibe (Jed very prominently reads a collection of Allen's short stories), though the film doesn't really need it.
It's fair to say that not a lot really happens, plot-wise, but it's still surprisingly moving and the script commendably resists the obvious feel-good clichés, such as a reconciliation with a cruelly discarded college friend (Nurse Jackie's Merritt Wever).
Tiny Furniture is an engaging, enjoyable and frequently funny American indie that marks writer-director-star Lena Dunham out as a talent to watch, which is handy, as the TV show she's developed with Judd Apatow (Girls) is about to debut on HBO ...