Directed by Lena Dunham
I came into this film as someone who has already seen 2 seasons of Girls and my criticisms and praises of that show are virtually interchangeable with that show (which is created by Dunham and features many of the same themes, situations, actors, and character archetypes) but for the sake of this thread, I will approach attempt to approach this as its own entity, however difficult that may be. Due to this, I’m going to format this a bit differently than my other reviews because it is the only way I can accurately convey my complex and conflicted feelings on Dunham as an artist.
The filmmaking can best be described as uneven. I enjoyed the lack of flash in the cinematography as that seems to be a forgotten virtue in independent filmmaking. The camera is simply placed where it needs to be and favors long takes. This proclivity for the long take is something of a double edged sword due to the films biggest technical failing- the performances. Dunham casts herself and her family but they are all subpar. Dunham improves in Girls but here she lacks any type of natural charisma and much of her delivery lacks authenticity. Her family is even worse, especially her sister whom she asks to give a screaming fit in a scene that sits just slightly outside of cringe inducing. The performances that are well worth watching are that of Jemima Kirke and Alex Karpovsky who fit their characters like a glove and carry over much of the humor found in the film. They do such admirable jobs its understandable why she brought them onto her show.
The key star of this movie is the writing. It so accurately conveys a place and way of life that it’s hard to not be impressed. It also carries with it a certainty that’s far beyond Dunham’s years. Thematically, it is very engaging. It captures a phenomena among college graduates that they are kept in a limbo-esque state of adulthood and immaturity where they are faced with the impending demands of who they think they should be and when they should be it as well as a lack of worldly knowledge, experiences, and self sufficiency to confront the world and all the obstacles in their place. It is easy to assume that the film is called “Tiny Furniture” for exactly that reason. Too small to do anything practical but set up and built to function. This is probably not compelling subject material for many but it is one that I find somewhat relatable due to where I am (university life… woo…)and the people I’m surrounded by. I say somewhat because, well… I’ll just go onto the next section for that…
Subjective and assumptive beef with Miss Dunham
It is damn hard to fully relate to the uppity problems of a shallow, immature, over-privileged girl who seems to have never had “legitimate” problems in her life. While this is a problematic way of viewing things as, come on, are we only going to allow people who have the worst problems to *****? By that maxim I wouldn’t find anything but a decapitated AIDS baby from Africa worthy of complaint but even with this in mind, I find her issues particularly hard to stomach.
This would be a substantially less affecting issue in judging the film is she did not cast herself in the title role. At times it is hard to tell whether this film (and Girls) is a thoughtful dissection of a class victimized by their parents success due to the lack of genuine conflict which leads to a premature crisis of identity and feelings of worthlessness by a keen observer of those around them or the well written journal and world view of a vapid spoiled princess. While not definitely altering this assessment, if she did cast someone else it would at least lend itself to a strong dichotomy between the real world and her film world. As is, I struggle to differentiate the two.
It reminds me of Woody Allen’s problem after releasing “Stardust Memories” (great film by the way). He struggled with the criticism leveled at him due to the film which heavily criticized audiences and critics alike as being stupid, easily led, and pretentious. Despite playing a director making a movie that strikes fairly close to his own career, he expressed dismay as to how critics and audiences could think he was personally attacking them because “he was playing a character!”. It is easy to see that he has a point but it’s equally easy to see why people would take issue.
When you craft a character so much like yourself and imbue them with certain thoughts and ideas, then portray them yourself, it conflates your real life personality with this artificial one. This problem is especially problematic when you play this and write this character sympathetically (something that people like Larry David successfully avoid by dramatizing their personal flaws to an extreme extent).
So here, I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth. Dunham is most certainly talented (at writing and directing, not so much with the acting)but as for making an auteuristic statement with her films, the effect is fairly muddled if not distasteful. The more she asks me be empathetic and like her character, the more I’m inclined to succumb to the opposite impulses. This makes certain scenes, like a fight with her mother about halfway through (coupled with the troubling acting) feel odd because I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel. If I separate Dunham from her character and judge it as a voyeuristic capturing of this “lifestyle”, I would expect that I’m supposed to be embarrassed that this is an adult still caught screaming at her mommy like a baby. If I conflate the two, it’s a dramatic sequence where I’m supposed to care that she’s an adult who feels frustrated with her situation and gets into a screaming match. The latter works, the former falls flat. Even after TWO seasons of Girls and this movie I’m still unable to tell which one I’m supposed to go with.
With all that said, I still find the movie (and the show) compelling and very watchable. For better or worse, Dunham is a fairly unique voice in cinema and captures this world whether it be as a watcher, active participant, or both with surehandedness and great authenticity. At the very least, she’s interesting.
I tentatively recommend this film.