MIFF 2011: Tiny Furniture
TINY FURNITURE is undoubtedly an impressive debut effort from 24 year old writer/director/actor Lena Dunham. Dunham plays Aura, a recently graduated film major who returns home to her family loft in Tribeca to work out what to do next with her life. Living in the loft is Aura's artist mother Siri (played by Dunham's real artist mother) and her younger precocious sister (played by Dunham's real younger precocious sister).
As Aura navigates her post-college life, she forms two misguided relationships with men, takes on a banal service job and generally just mopes about making pithy comments about how hard life is for her living a post-bourgeois, upper-class existence. Be forewarned, this film will rub some people the wrong way. It could easily be interpreted as the worst form of hipster, independent, 'woe is me', navel-gazing but if you are part of the lucky few that can relate to Dunham's character then you very well may find the film profoundly touching.
Me, I lean slightly towards to the former category, despite having a huge amount of similarities with Aura. The main problem with TINY FURNITURE is that while it thinks it may be saying something important, it actually has very little to say at all. For most of the film I was simply confused. I could not understand why Aura was acting the way she was. By the end it becomes clear that she was experimenting with different lifestyles in the hopes of finding herself. Ahhh the complex terrain of the mid-20s life crisis blah blah blah. Dunham has nothing really else to say other than, 'My isn't it difficult to find out who we truly are in this complex world', and the reason I think she doesn't have much to say is that the film itself turned out to be her own answer.
The meta-autobiographical nature of TINY FURNITURE forces us to imply this is at least partially her own story. So while Aura is left at the end of the film with no real answers (much like the audience), it seems Dunham's answer to 'What now', was to make a film about asking the question, 'What now'. Sure, she deserves a large amount of credit for not only placing herself front and centre in the film but also for crafting her own central character as considerably unlikable. It's a brave performance and not at all ego driven yet in the end we have a film made by a young filmmaker coming from a reasonably privileged background who has very little to say. Fans of Sofia Coppola's work will probably find a new favorite filmmaker here.
Technically TINY FURNITURE is fantastic. Jody Lee Lipes' photography (between this and his work on MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE he is the single most exciting new DOP I have seen in years) utilises some of the most interesting widescreen compositions I have seen all year. He understands how to use the frame in its entirety better than many other cinematographers who have been working for years. What is even more impressive is that TINY FURNITURE was shot entirely on a Canon 7D. As with Gareth Edwards' MONSTERS from MIFF last year (also shot on digital prosumer equipment), this is looking to be the most visually impressive film I have seen at the festival all year. Shot on digital no less.
TINY FURNITURE is an interesting, post-mumblecore film (please note it is post-mumblecore and not actually mumblecore. For a more categorical, semantic conversation ask me in person) which will resonate strongly with those able to relate with Dunham's plight. Those unable or unwilling will probably find this one either magnificently slight or actually quite infuriating. My own response, absolute indifference, which probably suits the hipster apathy that reigns supreme throughout the film.