Tiny Furniture is Lena Dunham’s first feature length film. Based on her own life crisis after college, Tiny Furniture was written in just four days, and then filmed in just one month in 2009. Lena Dunham won Best First Screenplay at the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards.
Tiny Furniture follows the life of recent graduate Aura (Lena Dunham). Returning home to live with her mother and sister in New York after four years of college in Ohio, Aura is at a loss at what to do next. She falls in with her childhood friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) and gets a job as a hostess at a local restaurant. When her artist mother (Dunham’s real life mother Laurie Simmons) and sister Nadine (real life sister Grace Dunham) go away for a week Aura invites a lodger to stay. Filmmaker Jed (Alex Karpovsky) consequently spends a parasitic week in Aura’s flat drinking wine, bed hopping and passing wry comments on her actions. The mother and sister come back, Aura has an argument with her mother, the sister has a party, the lodger moves out. Aura decides that actually she doesn’t really want to get her own flat in New York with college friend Frankie as she had vaguely planned.
It’s a struggle to summarise the plot of this film because much like post college life these days there isn’t a whole lot of structure. By the end of the film nothing is really resolved, Aura still does not have a plan, she is still unhappy, and nothing of consequence has changed. But that’s ok, sort of, because life is like that. Of course in real life Lena Denham got out of her rut by writing Tiny Furniture and becoming a widely praised screenwriter. She is now the executive producer of her own TV series, Girls, in which she is also an actress along with many of her friends from Tiny Furniture.
I have mixed feelings on Tiny Furniture. On one hand I liked it because I was able to identify with Aura and the graduate fog she has drifted into. She doesn’t know what to do, or what she wants, or who she is supposed to be. I can appreciate that, it’s a horrible time, you’re back home with your parent(s) and life is going nowhere. Unfortunately my sympathy ends there because Aura’s home is a TriBeCa artists loft with floor to ceiling bookshelves, cupboards full of red wine and apparently not a bed frame to be seen (Laurie Simmons’s real life flat). Poor Aura, it really must be a hard life. Having said this, my favourite person in the film is easily Aura’s self-absorbed childhood friend Charlotte. Living in her own unlikely enormous New York flat with racks full of beautiful clothes and no discernable source of income Charlotte is young, rich, beautiful, entitled. Within about ten seconds of appearing on screen I had decided I absolutely hated her, but my feelings gradually melted as she was revealed to be lonely and witty and generally a good influence on Aura’s wellbeing.
Tiny Furniture was ok. If you’re a recent graduate going through a post college crisis like me (especially an arts graduate) you’re probably going to look on it favourably. For most arts graduates it looks like an idealised world, there’s the flat you want, and the books you want and the cool clothes you want. But the point is that this all belongs to Aura’s mother, not Aura. I suppose that for children brought into very privileged worlds the battle is to build your own life, establish your own income, and your own identity away from that of your very successful parents. No matter what strata of society you have to return to after graduation the same battle is still there, the same apathy, and the same struggle to make sense of it all. I’m inclined to think the Independent Spirit Awards would be less interested on my screenplay about graduate ennui in Manchester though.