If there’s any filmmaker worth keeping an eye on over the next decade it’s without a doubt Lena Dunham. She wrote and directed her first feature length film, “Creative Nonfiction” when she was just 22 and proved she was here to stay with her sophomore feature, “Tiny Furniture,” released in 2010.
The film won the Best Narrative Feature award at the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival and also netted a Best First Screenplay award for Dunham at the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards. The film has since been re-released by the Criterion Collection and has brought in much more work for Dunham.
The film stars Dunham as Aura, a recent college graduate who moves back into her house with her mom, Siri, and her sister, Nadine (played by her real life mother, Laurie Simmons, and sister, Grace Dunham, respectively).
Having graduated with a degree in film theory, Aura doesn’t have many job prospects and soon takes a job working as a day hostess at an upscale New York bistro. In addition, she shelters a homeless YouTube star who manipulates her into letting him stick around even though he has no sexual interest in her whatsoever.
Almost immediately the film makes clear that Aura no longer fits in with her family. Four years at college has placed too much distance between them and now her mother and sister have developed an almost sororital bond. It’s also made apparent that Aura and Nadine are in constant competition with each other, though Nadine is much more casual and aloof about it.
“Tiny Furniture” is a comedy, more than anything else. It’s a comedy about Aura’s humiliations and embarrasments, but more than that, it’s about the actions and situations that humiliate and embarass her.
Throughout the entire film she’s just looking for some sort of connection, whether it’s a sexual connection with her live-in YouTube star Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a reconnection with long lost best friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) or a familial connection with her mother and sister.
A recurring situation in the film has Aura constantly trying to sleep in her mother’s bed with her, but Nadine is always there. It hurts to see Aura trying so hard but always being rejected and dejected. At one point she tells another character that her mother needs her (a lie, if there ever was one), because she wants it to be true. She wants to be needed.
Dunham has received nonstop criticism since her debut feature for writing characters who come from upper-middle class families and suffer from a sense of entitlement. The problem with these criticisms is that they’re so uninformed that they could be classified as unfounded.
Yes, Aura and Dunham’s countless other characters in her various projects are upper-middle class white girls with entitlement problems, but that’s exactly what Dunham has shot for. The characters aren’t unlikeable by accident, but by intention.
With “Tiny Furniture” Dunham has managed to criticize an entire generation of young people. Dunham, as Aura, is a social commentary, meant to call out the kids who actually live life like her characters. Any criticism about how Dunham can only write a specific kind of character is a fallacy. She could write any kind of character if she wanted to, but, as several reviews point out, “Tiny Furniture” is a film of the times and so Dunham’s characters better represent the kids who live in these times than any film prior or since.
Currently, Dunham is busy running and acting in her show “Girls” on HBO, and can be seen acting in films not her own.