Aura (Lena Dunham) is a newly grad living at home with her mother (Lauri Simmons) and younger sister Nadine (Grace Dunham). She isn’t sure what she wants to do, and has no clue how to get started. Taking up a hostess job, Aura searches for herself and all that emotional nonsense.
This film caught my attention some time ago for a couple of reason. First, director/writer/star Lena Dumham is younger than myself. Second, it’s shot on an affordable Canon EOS 7D DSLR camera. Indeed, a studio isn’t backing production making Tiny Furniture a truly independent film. Its budget is noticeably lacking, but it doesn’t look as cheap as a Redbox renegade from Steven Seagal. We’re spared fakish explosions and post-heavy color correction. The screenplay is comfortable for the budget, or maybe the budget simply isn’t sufficient for a quality screenplay. We all know “lights, camera, action!” but when there isn’t any action it’s all of a sudden easy to set up the lights and camera. Action, in any manifestation, is time consuming to stage and therefore adds expense. If the writer doesn’t have kinetic energy in mind then the story simply isn’t worth sitting through. There doesn’t need to be a has-been firing a gun, but the simple sense of urgency. For Tiny Furniture to win best narrative feature at SXSW is either indicative of feminist favoritism or a lack of competition.
There’s a myth I’d like to debunk. I was under the impression that Aura would be a YouTuber that makes videos about tiny furniture and this film chronicles her journey. That’s not the case. Tiny Furniture is not the first movie to work YouTube stardom into its script. There is a young man in the film whose YouTube channel drawing attention. Aura attempts to start a relationship with him only to learn that he’s every bit as dull as her whilst also, and rightfully, having zero interest. No, it’s a movie about being spoiled and hopeless. I don’t know if that’s exactly what Dunham was going for, like this is a cautionary tale of how entitlement leads to doldrums or if this is her idea of a struggle.
Dunham captures all the joy of a being in a rut, but is that really worthy of a cinematic experience? Dullness does not translate well to the screen… well actually it can, sometimes too often, but it’s not something evocative of quality. It’s not entertainment, escapism, magical, or inspired. Frankly the biggest problem facing independent cinema is the tendency to create that which shouldn’t exist. Studios know there is no market for a selfish, anxiety-ridden pity party, but somehow filmmakers are able to get just enough people on board to fulfill their agendas.
Having thoroughly trashed Tiny Furniture, I should say that it’s somewhat respectable. The goal was to deliver a sense of boredom—mission accomplished. It’s 89% well lit, 75% of the sound is audible, while 50% of the acting is believable. Having viewed on average 300 independent films over the last few years, I can say with confidence that much worse efforts exist and are currently in production. If this was for a class, you’re not going to fail. As a showcase of skills, maybe with the right tutelage something can be made of Dunham. **