This is a reprint of a review we originally ran during the Independent Film Festival Boston.
You don’t often see “big” films made by directors under the age of 30, let alone 25. The demographic of contemporary filmmakers might suggest that to turn in a mature effort, one needs experience in both life and filmmaking to get a film right. Twenty-three-year-old Lena Dunham‘s SXSW hit “Tiny Furniture” may damn well be testament to this theory. While we certainly looked forward to catching this at IFFBoston, we couldn’t help but be confused at all the positive buzz it has garnered. Her film certainly appears to be one of a young and inexperienced self-proclaimed Artist, bombarding us with uninteresting character interactions and social situations. “Furniture” may cover a lot of ground, but never hits the mark even in its attempts at self-deprecation.
Dunham’s film, shot in a no-frills digital style, appears to be almost explicitly autobiographical in everything but the names of the characters. Her real-life mother and younger sister star as fictionalized versions of themselves (Dunham’s mother is an artist both on and off screen and even uses her own work in the film), and Aura (Dunham), much like the actual filmmaker, is fresh out of Oberlin College with not much to do in her mother’s upscale Tribeca apartment. After arriving home, Aura reunites with childhood friend Charlotte, strikes up a platonic relationship with a low-grade YouTube celebrity Jed (Alex Karpovsky), and takes a job as a day hostess at a restaurant. Aura appears to desire at least some romantic involvement with sous chef Keith (David Call) at her workplace as well as Jed. Additionally, Aura cannot seem to hold a steady relationship with her mother Siri (Laurie Simmons) or sister Nadine (Grace Dunham). Beyond these details, Dunham takes the “non-story” approach, favoring anecdotes and character moments over any overarching plot.
Those who thought Diablo Cody‘s reference-dropping screenplay to “Juno” was a bit too much for them need not take any interest in “Furniture.” The film is so fundamentally flawed in its dialogue that it is hard to make up for with any characterization, story or formal cinematic ability. The dialogue never fails to seem forced in its attempted wit, providing no interest for both unlikeable and likable characters. Lacking the charm of mumblecore’s stiltedness or a Larry David-esque misanthropic awkwardness, any given character’s dialogue is, for lack of any better description, downright annoying and verbose. Even in Aura’s relationships there is little variety – her best friends, family and lovers alike receive the nastiness of the character’s neurotic selfishness.
Her apparent honesty and candidness in depicting her own life can be lauded, but Dunham seems to want to pack too much of it into a scene as possible – dead hamster jokes, arguments with everyone and anyone, and even fake YouTube memes. As a result, the film almost never lets up, creating a tiring dramatic pacing for a relatively short film. We think that if Dunham just takes a few breaths and doesn’t try to cram every idea or joke she has into one film, then there’s definitely potential for her to craft a genuinely clever, funny and even insightful movie. But if anything, the film does teach us one thing: post-college graduates (Dunham and her fictionalized self alike) sure do have a lot to say. [D] — Jon Davies