Aura has just finished college in Ohio. Her major is Film Theory. Her boyfriend of 3 years has broken up with her, however. With no job prospects and no love life, she returns to the NYC home of her mother and her gifted younger sister Nadine. She spends a lot of time moping and she half-heartedly restarts a friendship with the far perkier, but clearly spoiled and selfish Charlotte. She takes a low paying job as a day hostess. She half-heartedly dates a Youtube star she meets at a party and she half-heartedly flirts with a good-looking but attached chef at her restaurant.
Aura is utterly aimless…and it is her aimlessness that is the focus of director/writer/star Lena Dunham's TINY FURNITURE. It's a very low-budget film that depicts lots of listless young people doing a lot of whining, navel-gazing and engaging in sharp-edged banter. The movie shows us a very tiny little particular sub-culture of humanity (bored, over-educated, under-employed New York City residents with artistic pretensions). It feels very real and specific…yet the people we meet are extremely aggravating. Some will find them actively upsetting. I found most of them to be beneath getting worked up about…but just low-grade annoyances. And absolutely NOT people I'd want to spend time with.
Aura makes mistakes with both men…but neither of them was right for her anyway. She irritates the heck out of her successful artist mother and has a volatile relationship with her high achieving and oh-so superior teenage sister, who seems to have the drive her intelligent but aimless older sister lacks. She drives away one "good" friend and spends too much time with a "bad" friend.
As I write all this, I realize it makes the movie sound darn near unwatchable. This is not true. Dunham has crafted some very funny dialogue for her characters…and to her credit, the witty remarks actually sound like something these people might say. They are so full of disdain for the world around them, but clearly feel the lack of belonging to that world. The Youtube artist that Aura spends some time with has become "famous" because he's made a series of videos depicting himself riding on a rocking horse while reciting Nietzsche. This has gotten him an agent and some appointments with producers in NYC. Yet it's also earned him no money, and he's essentially homeless in the city while making his rounds. Aura has a degree in film theory, a very passive degree indeed. Not in film production…theory. God forbid she should actually MAKE something. These modest plot turns and observations make TINY FURNITURE some fun to watch.
Dunham does an amusing job playing a character that I sincerely hope is not much like her. She has no shame as an actress…she spends much of the movie lying around her house in a shirt and panties, with her hair unkempt. She just can't make an effort to be presentable…even when she goes out, she appears to deliberately wear unflattering clothing. She has cast her real-life mother as her movie mother and her real life sister as her movie sister. Both performers are okay, but nothing great. But it's amusing see the physical similarities and differences.
TINY FURNITURE is a tiny film (reported budget is $45,000). While only 98 minutes long, it drags in places. Nothing much happens, and next to nothing is resolved. But it's got some wit and a good control of tone. I'm certainly impressed enough to at least be interested in seeing what Dunham does next. This is not a movie for everyone. If you shy away from "indie" or "quirky"…stay far away. But if you're always looking for something new(ish) and offbeat, I think you'll find at least a few satisfying nuggets here.