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TINY FURNITURE (director/writer: Lena Dunham; cinematographer: Jody Lee Lipes; editor: Lance Edmands; music: Teddy Blanks; cast: Lena Dunham (Aura), Laurie Simmons (Siri), Grace Dunham (Nadine), Rachel Howe (Candice), Merritt Wever (Frankie), Amy Seimetz (Ashlynn), Alex Karpovsky (Jed), Jemima Kirke (Charlotte), David Call (Keith); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kyle Martin/Alicia Van Couvering; IFC Films; 2010)
“Fine indie.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This fine indie won the SXSW festival’s best narrative feature prize. Director-writer-star Lena Dunham(“Creative Nonfiction”)creates a good mix of romantic comedy and psychodrama. Its no holds barred satire on sitcom conventions among family members and engaging parody of New Age hipsters in Manhattan’s Soho, give the film its edge.

The 22-year-old loser, Aura (Lena Dunham), graduates from an Ohio college and returns home to her mom’s spacious Tribeca loft in Manhattan. Aura’s successful photo-artist mom, Siri (Laurie Simmons, Lena’s actual mother who is an actual Soho photo-artist), whose specialty is taking photos of models posing with props of miniature furniture in her loft studio (thus the title), seems to have little time to warmly welcome her daughter home or listen to her heartbreaking story about her hick college boyfriend who left her for the farm in Colorado. Also living in the loft is Aura’s brilliant 17-year-old high school student sister, Nadine (Grace Dunham, real-life sister of Aura’s and someone who actually won the prestigious poetry award mentioned in the film), who has recently won a national poetry contest that’s referenced as the “biggest high school award for poetry in the United States.”

At a party, Aura reconnects with her feisty and dissolute childhood friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke, her real childhood friend), just out of rehab but still a pot smoker and pill popper. Aura mentions she studied filmmaking in college and shot a video of herself walking around campus in a bikini, which got a lot of hits on YouTube as well as a lot of nasty comments about her obesity. Also at the party she meets deadbeat Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a popular YouTube performance artist, who is spotted immediately by Charlotte as being a creepy free-loader and not the romantic prospect the desperate Aura imagined he would be. When Jed, a visitor from Chicago looking for a TV deal in Gotham, goes out on a date with Aura with no money, she takes him home and has him crash in a her place while mom and sis are away for the next few days visiting colleges that Nadine is interested in attending. Things get twisty when Jed shows no romantic interest in Aura, as he’s just there to eat all the food in the fridge and drink mom’s wine and have a place to sleep in for free. When mom returns, she’s pissed and orders Aura to give the inconsiderate jerk the boot. This leads to the hysterical Aura giving mom a tongue-lashing for not caring about her needs and pain, and a falling out develops between them that is later awkwardly repaired.

Charlotte, through her restaurant connections as a hostess, gets Aura a dead-end job as the day hostess in a neighborhood restaurant. There Aura meets another exploitative dude, Keith (David Call), the full of shit philandering chef who lives with his girlfriend but is not averse to screwing around when he gets the opportunity. After Keith fails to show up for a date with Aura, he gets her so upset that she quits her lousy job. This leads to Keith meeting Aura one more time and he screws her without using protection in a pipe in the street, and then rushes home leaving her deserted in the street to get a taxi on her own. This final humiliation for Aura comes with a lecture from mom, but doesn’t seem to register for this confused young lady who has trouble growing up into a responsible adult and is unsure of her future.

Who knows what to make of such an in your face self-effacing display by our protagonist! But we do know Aura is the vulnerable alter ego of Lena’s and no matter how she puts herself down for looking so dorky, being so desperate around inadequate men and acting without a backbone, we know she’s proud that she got it together to direct this successful mannered comedy. It’s a movie that wonders about the fascination over Internet fame among the youth, the difficulty in finding trustworthy friends, the inability of some young adults to let go of their parents’ apron strings and how fucked up so many young people are that they can’t figure out what to do with themselves. Though it wasn’t that pleasant watching all those humiliation scenes, nevertheless there was something perceptive and unsettling about it as it never failed to humanize Aura even in her worst moments. And it never failed to be a fascinating watch, showing us what a promising young director can do with such real-life modern material in such a low-budget film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”