Lena Dunham’s knockout feature-film debut Tiny Furniture is proof, against steep odds, that there are no small stories, only small storytellers. The award-winning indie discovery is also fair warning that the 24-year-old Dunham — who also stars in a role modeled so closely on her life that she shot the film in her family’s stark, artsy loft in lower Manhattan — is a big talent to be reckoned with, a storyteller of gigantic charm and subtlety, and a filmmaker of exciting feminine originality.
In this spare, low-budget existential comedy about having no career path, no boyfriend, no income, and no independent place to live — greetings, today’s youth of America! — Dunham disguises herself in plain sight as a new college graduate named Aura who’s still smarting after a recent breakup. So she moves back from her Ohio dorm to Mom’s NYC place while she figures out what to do next. Aura’s artist mother (played with cool aplomb by Dunham’s artist mother, Laurie Simmons) is underwhelmed by her older daughter’s return; Aura’s sylphier, overachieving younger sister, Nadine (played with teen cheek by Dunham’s sylphier younger sister, Grace Dunham), is positively snotty about having a sibling back in the female mix. At least in Dunham’s fictional interpretation, life is an ovarian jungle.
As Aura bravely fumbles with a crummy restaurant job, a couple of feckless guys (including a doozy of a mooch played with mumblecore integrity by Alex Karpovsky from Beeswax), and frenemy advice from a dreadfully sophisticated childhood friend (a great turn for Dunham’s pal Jemima Kirke), the filmmaker maintains seemingly effortless control of the movie’s vertiginous shifts in scale, crucially assisted by the superb cinematography of Jody Lee Lipes. Examined from different angles, Tiny Furniture is the honest story of a young woman’s vulnerable desires and a bemused satire of real-life Gossip Girl?hood. It’s a tiny tale of inertia, and it’s also the grand triumph of a young artist with a mature trust in her own unique voice. A