Tiny Furniture: Criterion Collection
February 20, 2006
Every so often there comes along an independent filmmaker that is touted as a major new voice and makes a film that causes a big splash, spawning countless substandard copies and wannabes. In the past, it’s been the likes of Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Soderbergh, and Quentin Tarantino to name but just a few. Recently, YouTube wunderkind Lena Dunham has been touted as the Next Big Thing with cinematic figures like Nora Ephron and Paul Schrader among her fans. She’s even been compared to the likes of Woody Allen. So, is this all hype or does her second feature film Tiny Furniture (2010) really deliver the goods?
Aura (Lena Dunham) has recently graduated from college in Ohio and returns home to New York City to live with her sympathetic mother Siri (Simmons) and her acerbic younger sister Nadine (Grace Dunham). Aura doesn’t have any plan for what she’s going to do next and is adrift in life. She goes to a party where she’s introduced to Jed (Karpovsky) who, like Aura, makes quirky short videos and uploads them to YouTube. Feeling like she should do something with her life, Aura gets a job as a day hostess at a trendy bistro nearby and goes out on a date with Jed who ends up crashing at her home, much to the mild chagrin of her mother. However, Aura finds herself attracted to Keith (Call), one of the chefs at her job.
Like a lot of popular contemporary comedies, Tiny Furniture deals in the comedy of humiliation, immaturity and general directionless in life only being more literate, which may explain the comparisons to Woody Allen (the New York setting also helps). Much like Whit Stillman or Kevin Smith’s early films, Lena Dunham’s film deals with young people in their twenties that are in the awkward phase in life that exists between college and becoming a responsible adult. She also addresses what a lot of people her age are experiencing – highly educated but with little in the way of decent employment opportunities. Instead, they have to contend with low-paying work at a job they don’t like with little room for advancement.
If anything, Tiny Furniture resembles the deadpan awkward comedy of Gary Burns’ Waydowntown (2000), which also features disaffected twentysomethings working crap jobs and engaging in meaningless encounters. Dunham takes an unflinching look at her rather selfish protagonist who leeches off her mother and feels sorry for herself. Aura comes from privileged parents who have spoiled her and so is it any wonder she acts the way she does? As a result, it is tough to identify and sympathize with her. Maybe we aren’t supposed to or maybe it’s a generational thing.
Writer/director Nora Ephron interviews Lena Dunham about Tiny Furniture and the influence of Woody Allen as well as the autobiographical elements. They talk about the authenticity of the situations and the relationships in the film. This is an engrossing conversation between a veteran filmmaker (who tends to gush a little too much over Dunham) and one just beginning her career, both of whom happen to be women.
Writer/director Paul Schrader gives his impressions on the film and addresses the negative reaction it has received by some people, which he surmises boils down to plain ol’ envy. He also puts the film in the context of the mumblecore genre.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
The second disc includes Creative Nonfiction, Dunham’s 2009 feature film debut that she made while in college. It came out of plays she wrote that didn’t appeal to the theater department or the creative writing department. She introduces the film and explains its origins and her intentions. The film is quite rough around the edges, as most first films are, but one can see Dunham’s raw talent and how this led to Tiny Furniture.
Also included are four short films she made between 2006 and 2007. These are little experiments in the form of quirky situations, like three girls talking about orgasms or a girl dressed like a hooker interacting with students on a college campus, or a girl washing up in a public fountain.