Tiny Funiture -- Film Review

How Lena Dunham made her movie is more impressive or at least unique than the actual story she chooses to tell.

Lena Dunham’s "Tiny Furniture" recently picked up a couple of Gotham Independent Film Award nominations, both in “breakthrough” categories. Such noms demonstrate that indie filmmakers very much appreciate the commendable efforts of other indie filmmakers who manage to make do with whatever is immediately at hand.

The real question, though, is this: Does a film like Furniture exist to pick up noms or to reach an actual audiences? This film seems designed to speak to nominating committees only. In other words, how she made her movie is more impressive or at least unique than the actual story she chooses to tell.

First of all, Furniture is a DIY movie to its very mumble-core. It also is a kind of tease: Lena Dunham the filmmaker has cast Lena Dunham the actress to play someone who may or may not be Lena Dunham. Its writer-director-star then casts her family as her family, her friends as her friends and shoots much of the movie in her parents’ Tribeca loft. As it turns out, this airy, pretty-in-white loft with its fabulous artist’s studio is the most interesting thing in the movie. It shouldn’t be.

When superficial aspects of a movie so clearly mirror the life of its maker, the film can’t help giving off a strong whiff of autobiography. How much the emotional core of Furniture truly reflects Dunham’s life is hard to say. Certainly her dysfunctional, adrift college-graduate character, Aura, lacks the pluck and guile to make her own movie as Dunham has.

Even if the film bears little resemblance to Dunham’s real life, one wonders why Dunham dumps on her heroine so maliciously. For watching this film is like sitting in on someone else’s therapy sessions — too much information about someone you don’t know, and the more you learn, the less you want to.

Aura, overweight and lacking ambition, is not pretty like her younger sister (Grace Dunham) or successful like her mother (Laurie Simmons), a recognized photo artist. So she whines, makes poor choices — especially in the men she associates with — takes a dead-end job, then whines some more. Many of her travails are self-inflicted. When sis tells her to get a life, you may hear an “Amen” come from some of the audience.

Every encounter in the film is meticulously designed to lower Aura’s self-esteem ever further. A glamorous girlfriend from her school days, Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), attacks life the way Aura wants to but never does. Her mother’s own diaries of her youth, left in a place so easily spotted that she must want her daughter to read it, tells of a wild, carefree, gloriously sexual life that Aura can only dream about. The chef (David Call) of a restaurant where she answers phones flirts with Aura while complaining all the while about his girlfriend. And so it goes.

One male friend (Alex Karpovsky), who sleeps in her bed but never thinks to touch her, has his nose in a book about Woody Allen all the time. You wish Dunham would read the book instead and perhaps learn how to make romantic embarrassments, annoying habits and social dysfunction funny. Here, it’s just embarrassing and annoying.

The film climaxes, literally, with a creepy sexual encounter that is downright humiliating. Even Aura doesn’t deserve such a degrading experience.

One bright spot is Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography, especially because the film apparently was shot with a high-end consumer camera.

Release dates: Friday, Nov. 12 (New York); Friday, Nov. 26 (Los Angeles) (IFC Films)
Cast: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Rachel Howe, Merritt Wever, Amy Seimetz, Alex Karpovsky, Jemima Kirke, David Call
Director-screenwriter: Lena Dunham
Producers: Kyle Martin, Alicia Van Couvering
Production company: Tiny Ponies
Director of photography: Jody Lee Lipes
Music: Teddy Banks
Editor: Lance Edmands
No rating, 100 minutes