Having just graduated from college, split up with her longtime boyfriend, and thrust into the ‘real world’, Aura returns to her family home in New York, directionless and unsure of herself. Tiny Furniture is from writer, director, and star Lena Dunham, whose latest TV series Girls is proving a hit on US network HBO. The movie is a comedy, but it’s an indie comedy so the humour is really derived from a kind of despair at the world and it’s various absurdities, centred squarely on the feeling of being adrift in a post education, pre-career haze without a sense of clear purpose or identity.
Moving back in with her famous artist mother, Siri, and her still in high school younger sister, Nadine, Aura finds herself back in a world that she doesn’t quite fit into anymore. Various other characters orbit around her: Frankie, a friend from College who is moving to New York to get an apartment with her; Charlotte, an old friend that she reunites with at a party and who helps to get her a job; Jed, a semi-famous YouTuber who she’s interested in but who seems a bit too concerned with himself; and Keith, the sous chef at the restaurant where she get’s a job as a day hostess. Siri and Nadine are played by Dunham’s real life mother and sister and the film is largely filmed in her mother’s actual Tribecca apartment so we can assume that, at the very least, the basis of Tiny Furniture is autobiographical. Even the title is derived from the photographs that Siri (and Laurie Simmons in reality) takes, which of course feature small furniture arrangements.
All of the characters succumb to the sort of witty self-involvement associated with arty intellectual types that are rife in indie cinema and whilst Aura comes across as quite real some of the others verge on being insufferable assholes. As Aura invites Jed to stay in her mothers apartment whilst she’s away it’s clear that he’s only too willing to sponge off of her good natured hospitality. Also as she gets closer to Keith at work it’s unclear which of the two she’s really interested in, perhaps Jed intellectually and Keith physically as an unvarnished and brief sex scene (that’s difficult to watch only for it’s proximity to the raw and unsatisfying nature of reality) between the two attests. Indeed all the films relationships are complex yet fairly unsatisfying, with Aura showing a frankly human potential for inadvertently being her own worst enemy. Her relationship with her mother is perhaps the most sincere, having found a diary of hers from when she was around the same age it is apparent that she too was equally lost at that age – as indeed are most.
As mentioned the comedy creeps in at the edges rather than supplying any particular bang, one of the standout moments involving trying to locate light bulbs in ‘the’ white cupboard when the apartment is an expanse of purely white cupboards, and another being the ill chosen setting for Aura and Keith’s sex scene. Tiny Furniture is a type of black comedy concerned with the crisis of people’s early twenties; certainly not laugh out loud funny, or even that pleasurable to watch. The pace is always languid and there’s sometimes a detached nature to the dialogue and fairly blank cinematography, but it’s Aura herself that makes it compelling enough to watch. It is an accomplishment of Dunham’s will that the movie exists, and whilst it might not make any big splash, to use TS Eliot “not with a bang but a whimper”, it is at least honest.
Tiny Furniture is out on DVD May 28.