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Review: ‘Tiny Furniture’

All About Life’s Little Problems

Above: Life's a little rough for Aura (Lena Dunham) in "Tiny Furniture."

Most of the mumble core films have a strong male perspective even when female characters are present. "Tiny Furniture" (opened December 10 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) has a distinctly female point of view.

The poster for "Tiny Furniture" states: "Aura would like you to know that she is having a very, very hard time." That pretty much sums it up. Twenty-two-year-old Aura (played by writer-director Lena Dunham) finds everything a bit of a struggle – finding a job, returning home to live wither artist mom, trying to find a boy friend – it's all tough. Aura has recently graduated from college and she is returning to New York to live with her mom and younger sister (played by her real life mom Laurie Simmons and real life sis Grace), who both seem to have better coping skills than she does. Plus she has lousy romantic prospects on the horizon.

"Tiny Furniture" won Best Narrative Feature at the SXSW Film Festival. It follows in the mumblecore vein of ultra-low budget filmmaking with an emphasis on intimate, self-reflexive stories about relationships. But "Tiny Furniture" differs in that the focus is almost entirely on women and Dunham has invested in a tripod.

Lena Dunham and Mike S. Ryan in "Tiny Furniture."

IFC

Above: Lena Dunham and Mike S. Ryan in "Tiny Furniture."

Dunham displays an appealing, self-deprecating sense of humor as she turns an unflinching eye on the life of a young woman. "Tiny Furniture" proves more appealing than most of the mumblecore films I have seen. Dunham's script seems more crafted and less improvised than some other examples of mumblecore. She also takes more care in shooting her film; relying less on a run-and-gun handheld style than her colleagues. The style works well since the film is about artists and the composition of her film frame reveals a respect for composition. There's a lot of open space and white in her frame (big mostly white walls often dominate a shot) and maybe that symbolizes all the unknowns or open spaces in her life.

The only downside of Denham's approach is that maybe it's too close to real life. The danger here is that it runs the risk of being somewhat dull and uneventful. You feel occasionally that these are people you would not want to hang out with because they can grate on your nerves or bore you with their anxieties. Films don't have to be about likable people but if they are not likable, they need to be interesting in some way, and sometimes Dunham and company are not. Dunham would also benefit from less mugging for the camera; her exaggerated facial expressions grow wearisome at times.

"Tiny Furniture" (unrated but for mature audiences) is funny, occasionally insightful, and sometimes painfully real. It's a promising early work for Dunham and it will be interesting to see where her next feature takes her.

Companion viewing: "In Search of a Midnight Kiss," "Girlfriends," "Definitely Maybe"

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