By Ben Garfinkel
“I like complex heroines,” explains Oberlin alumna Lena Dunham at the Apollo after the screening of her new film, Tiny Furniture.
In a time when the film business seems to consistently release big-budget films with cookie cutter protagonists, Tiny Furniture is a refreshingly honest film starring Dunham as Aura, a young woman moving back with her family in New York during her post-graduate stupor. It is a setting not unlike many films before it, such as The Graduate and Adventureland, but instead of trying to live up to its influences, Tiny Furniture excels as personal film from the mind of an unusually talented young filmmaker.
Tiny Furniture opens with Aura arriving home to her mother’s studio loft after graduating from college in Ohio. As she attempts to adjust to her new life, she starts a casual relationship with a broke internet celebrity (Alex Karpovsky), reconnects with friends through the snarky Brit Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) and gets a job as a hostess. Though the story is in fact rather dull, the humorous dialogue is dead-on, showcasing Dunham’s exceptional writing talent.
Unfortunately, the clever humor that makes the first half of Tiny Furniture so endearing ends up falling by the wayside later on. Around the halfway point, Aura loses the snarky charm that originally made her so appealing and begins to show her true colors as a melodramatic, unlikeable character that doesn’t seem to “get it.” Aura’s lack of motivation is interesting to watch, but at the same time it gives the film a feeling of listlessness. After all, an audience can only take so much of a protagonist feeling sorry for herself at the cost of plot development.
Perhaps this wallowing is what made the film so appealing for Oberlin students. It would be great to see graduates coming home out of college and becoming hugely successful at what they love to do, but the reality is that post-grad life does not always work out that way. Aura is a tragic, everyday character, and Dunham tries to convey that in her directing. From an entire shot dedicated to Aura putting on deodorant in the morning (something I have never seen in film) to unflattering angles galore, Dunham made an effort to diverge attention from the more charming areas of her protagonist’s life, which showed Aura as a true representation of a real person. After all, life isn’t just romance and gunfights.
Even though her film had a small budget ($25,000) and many roles were filled by her own family members (both her mom and sister in the movie are played by their real-life counterparts), Dunham is no slouch. At only 23, Dunham has made two feature films, ten shorts, and will soon be working with Judd Apatow on a comedy pilot for HBO.