To know where you are and where you are going is a something many of us only occasionally grasp. Nearly everyone seeks to achieve some version of this scenario, in which the world makes sense and we have a clear role in it, but the means are not always clear. This is the premise of Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham’s second feature-length film in which she plays a recent college graduate who returns home without a strong sense of her next step, much less who she is. Her mother and sister are befuddled by her presence and her friends seem as confused as she is, although many of them wear the sheen of assuredness. The film follows her exploits as a privileged 20-something named Aura living in Manhattan and it oscillates between sympathy and laceration without ever wading too deeply into one. Aura is not neurotic or unconfident, but simply lacks a strong of vision of role as a daughter, sister, friend, and professional. This is apparent in Dunham’s lively aesthetic, visually reflecting her confused state with wide-open interior compositions and disproportionately framed conversations.
As a series of social encounters edging between awkward and playful, Tiny Furniture articulates and re-enforces the challenge of becoming an idea of yourself and settling for the aftermath of those choices. Whether at home, at work, or in sex, Aura cannot separate the decisions she makes out of convenience from those she makes out of genuine desire. Dunham focuses on how this manifests through the daily habits and ordinary bits of life. Her portrait of Aura can therefore neither be described as loving or scathing, which is perhaps why it is so genuine.
After Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham created the much-buzzed HBO show airing currently called Girls. It reportedly delves into many of the same thematic and aesthetic angles and has gone on to win much acclaim. But this should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with Tiny Furniture. Its “fish out of water” scenario somewhat undervalues Dunham’s apparent ambition to re-envision feminine space (both visually and narratively), but the film nonetheless holds up and is a notable early achievement in what will likely be a long, fruitful career. Moreover, Tiny Furniture reveals a filmmaker with attuned senses and a unique and badly needed voice in today’s mediascape. (Lena Dunham, 2010) ***