*** out of 5.
In some ways an easy target for snark from the twitterati - ah hah, a film written by, directed, and starring the same person, and she has "famous parents!" (I have to admit I was totally unaware of who her parents were until doing some research, and I can't be the only one). It also sounds like we're veering close to Noah Baumbach Backlash Country. Part of me wants to say, lay off the girl, it's her first feature film! And one of the film's charms is that Lena Dunham (playing a character named Aura) presents herself as far from a perfect, airbrushed character. (The press summary itself even describes her as "funny, self-aware, but a little bit spoiled and a lot bit overdramatic." Another part of me wants to say, she's awfully whiny with not a lot to kvetch about.)
Tiny Furniture itself certainly isn't perfect, but it does impress in certain ways -- it's very well shot and composed, even if sometimes the shots are almost *too* cinematic if that makes any sense, given the intimate nature of conversations and rather slow pace of the plot, but I'd much prefer this to the sloppy hand-held camerawork for faux immediacy all too much the norm today.
And the film acutely captures the angst of transition from college life to "city adult life" when none of us are ready fo rit yet, and how friendships can fall by the wayside. But in that way in which we meander in those times, so too does the film.
Dunham's Aura is a young woman who comes home to live in her mom's TriBeCa loft after both college and a relationship have ended. In its combination of fiction and real life family overlap, it reminded me a bit of the NY-set Azazel Jacobs' Momma's Man, in which an adult man in a state of psychological paralysis goes back home to live with his parents; as in Tiny Furniture they are played by his actual family. Both films were self-analytical but Momma's centered around an older protagonist and also had what felt a more mature emotional depth to it.
Even more so Tiny Furniture reminded me of Jonathan Parker's appealing (Untitled) for its depiction of New York artists and the people who both dig and dis them. And even Whit Stillman's Metropolitan for its gentle satire of the overpriviledged young 'uns. Aura's childhood chum Charlotte (an appealing Jemima Kirke, even if the character starts to grate) is a free spirited example of this.
Dunham's mother -- artist photographer Laurie Simmons - is a great character. I found myself agreeing with her on the occasions she snaps at her whining daughter. Her real-life sister Grace plays her sister here; some of their scenes capture naturally the older sister-younger sister rivalry dynamic quite well, even if the acting isn't perfect there the emotions are true.
I don't really get Aura's interest in Jed, the sad sack filmmaker she lets crash at her mom's flat, he's broke, needy and mopey, but but being an older man, an artist made him appealing to at first. He takes advantage of her kindness by not getting the message he should vacate the premises after a few days.
Pacing-wise it doesn't exactly grab you -- in that official summary it notes "Still, it feels to Aura like nothing is happening" - and it feels this way to me, too.
Tiny Furniture has a sweet nature, spirit and a nice self-deprecating sense of humor (as does Dunham herself). And there are many utterly genuine and relatable moments. But when deadpan humor is part of an overall mellow energy a film risks disengaging. It's a reminder that there can be a script in which you can relate to the conversations almost *too* much. It's possible to maintain realism without flagging.
Still, there are enough amusing characters and lines to keep interest. And Dunham herself is enough of an appealing presence that she kept my attention and kept me rooting for her, despite the low-key plotting. And things do pick up when her mother returns and Aura's own actions, and inactions, start piling up on her. Everything up to that point has been quiet that the dramatic impact here is increased, although I would've liked to have seen this kind of emotion earlier in the film. In one sense, Dunham's slow pace helps make the few overtly dramatic moments shock us more. Meanwhile, the ending is gentle and loving, even if the symbolism is debatable (and not just in the good sense of the word).
But most importantly to me, what I'm left with after Tiny Furniture is looking forward to Dunham's next film, excited to see how she progresses.