Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tiny Furniture (Dunham. 2010)

"Listen, if you're lonely, you can come back to my place, and we can just take an Ambien and watch "Picnic at Hanging Rock."


I gotta say, I love Lena Dunham. In the pilot episode of the very good HBO series "Girls", Dunham's character says to her parents that she believes herself to be the voice of her generation. "Or at least...some generation". Though I am not willing to go that far, I will happily compare her to the voices in the head of this generation. Dunham, as a celebrity, embodies the after-college hangover better than anybody. She seemed to be desperately unprepared for the success of her television show, and perhaps inadvertently sliced a knife through conventional Hollywood with her tattoos, vocabulary and [lack of] ability to walk in heels. She has been criticized by lesser minds for using sexuality, profanity, and drug abuse as plot-points, but who are we to blame Ms. Dunham for simply holding a mirror to the anti-bourgeois among us all? The 2014 version of counter-culture never has been the Flower Child or the "I heard it first" hipster, but rather a culture formed out of complacency - void of real-world understanding due to engraved entitlement. 

There is something unarguably strange about the time between graduating college and beginning life in the "real world". College teaches (for the most part) the ability to think critically and ask questions. The real world hates people who ask questions. Especially if they are young people. In a world where you need work experience for an entry-level position for which you apply in the hopes of gaining work experience - the post-collegiate daze is not only real, but also mentally and physically demanding. This is the plot of Tiny Furniture. Written and directed by its star, the film is an essay on the life between lives. A piece of paper from an old building does not actually qualify you for anything - especially not happiness. 

College is an atmosphere that teaches and encourages young people to follow their dreams. Sadly, the utility bill does not care about your dreams. When Aura (Dunham) arrives at her mother's home in Tribeca she is not greeted with much grandeur. She has spent the last four years at a college in Ohio, where right before returning home she was dumped by her longtime boyfriend. Aura's mother is a successful and wealthy artist who takes and sells pictures of tiny furniture. Some of these pictures also feature Aura's younger and more competitive sister. Aura's mother and sister are played by Dunham's real life mother and sister. The Tribeca home that they share is also the real home of her family. It is hard to say whether or not they are playing themselves - that would be a question for the director herself - but if they ARE playing characters then I would feel pressured to call them the greatest amateur actors that I have ever seen on screen. 

Aura's home life is thick with frustration and mental inequity. She believes that she deserves to be happy, and that she should have a great job. But she is not interested in putting in the work to achieve either of these things. She accepts a job taking reservations at a restaurant, and then sparks a relationship with one of the kitchen workers. This particular man already has a girlfriend, but is still able to secure a date with Aura (where he stands her up) and the two eventually share an icky and uncomfortable (read: realistic) sexual encounter. Because when you are not receiving any fulfillment in your every day life - there is no better way to ignite feeling than a quick orgasm. Though masturbation would probably be a better option than any of the sex had in this film.

Dunham's direction is just as mundane as the characters in her screenplay. The camera is almost always just sitting in a singular shot as if every detail needs to be noticed. The long white cabinets in her home are displayed as if they are artwork in their own right. The set offers nothing much to the film besides an arena for the action to take place - which I believe matches the tone of the film due to the fact that none of the characters have any chemistry either. Both of these sensations I credit to a screenplay that does not need simple tricks, and makes every attempt to stay away from cheesy and to embrace what is real. In the Criterion special features, Lena Dunham claims that she made Tiny Furniture on a budget of just $65,000. She used her real family, home, and friends for her directorial debut - and I would say that they made a movie that is without a doubt something to cherish. I have never seen a movie that embodies the "quarter-life crisis" with such realistic pessimism and simplicity. It is the American Beauty for 20-somethings. The difference? I actually liked Tiny Furniture.  

Tiny Furniture: A