DVD Review: ‘Tiny Furniture’

Courtesy of award-winning American actor, writer and director Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture (2010) is a film that will bewitch some – and infuriate many. It’s an incredibly self-indulgent, self-important piece, full of kooky, neurotic characters and social awkwardness by the bucket-load, but for fans of Dunham’s introverted humour, Tiny Furniture will certainly satisfy the faithful. Set in New York’s Tribeca district, Dunham herself plays lead protagonist Aura, a petulant, de-motivated college graduate who moves back home to live with her mother Siri (Lena’s real-life mother Laurie Simmons) and sister Nadine (real-life sibling Grace Dunham).

Lumbered with a redundant degree in film theory, an embarrassing YouTube video with 357 hits with some rather uncomplimentary user comments and a lack of real friends in the area (aside from Jemima Kirke’s prescription drug-peddling Charlotte), Aura finds a job as a restaurant hostess where she meets sous-chef Keith (David Call). At the same time, she is also vaguely seeing Jed (Alex Karpovsky), an alternative comedian (one of his routines is the bizarre ‘Nietzschean Cowboy’) currently in talks with the major television networks. Caught between two love interests, whilst juggling her day job with an intense loathing of sister Nadine, Aura stumbles from one embarrassing social faux pas to the next – with middling consequences.

It’s easy to see why certain audiences would struggle with Dunham’s Tiny Furniture. The film’s humour is extremely specific (if crippling insecurity and lashings of self-deprecation isn’t your thing, you’ll find little to enjoy here) and there’s little actual narrative to get your teeth into aside from Aura’s seemingly endless quest for female/male/maternal affection and attention. However, for those versed in the Woody Allen-school of comic neurosis, Dunham may very well win your admiration, if not your heart.

It’s in the competence of the film’s central performances that Tiny Furniture lets itself down. Dunham’s screenplay is razor-sharp, but despite her commendable willingness to bare herself – warts and all – on-screen, her turn as Aura often slips into unconvincing mawkishness. The male characters are similarly shaky, and it’s only really Kirke’s unpredictable, Withnail-esque display as best friend Charlotte that catches the eye – look out for her in Dunham’s own HBO series, Girls.

There are numerous, perfectly cogent arguments both for and against Tiny Furniture’s success as a film (it does undeniably seem better-suited to the small screen) and Dunham’s prescribed status as the “future of screen comedy”. What is certain is that her second future is the perfect taste test for any potential fence-sitters. Just don’t be surprised if you have a sudden urge to switch off ten minutes in.

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Daniel Green