Lena Dunham's 'Tiny Furniture'
Lena Dunham has just unleashed one of the most talked about films of the year.
There's a moment in Tiny Furniture (2010), the latest feature from mumblecore wunderkind Lena Dunham, when the protagonist's best friend suggests the ideal formula for a perfect night: "We can take Ambien and watch Picnic at Hanging Rock!". If, as many critics have noted, Dunham is the voice of a generation, then Generation Y is one hell of a resourceful bunch. Lena Dunham is no exception to the rule. The screenplay for Tiny Furniture was written in just a week in a post-graduate fugue, and shot on a consumer-grade Canon DSLR. Since debuting at SXSW in March, the film has gone on to reap the praise of critics and pick up a sizeable swag of award nominations. Not bad for Dunham, 24, a freshly graduated creative writing major.
HOOKER ON CAMPUS (2008)
Part of the charm of Dunham's work is that it has that warm, lived-in feel of a project made with more heart than money. Her college shorts, soaking in the social awkardness and skewed humour of pretty much every arts major, run the gamut of dire dinner parties, sex advice and campus prostitution. Dunham understands that the insecure drift of the years between adolescence and adulthood are some of the most important that we have to contend with. She chronicles them with a self-deprecating humour that makes all those awkward indignities and rare triumphs seem almost bearable.
Dunham's cinematic world is populated with real-life friends and relatives and inhabits all of the director's haunts; from her liberal arts campus in Ohio, to the New York art scene that nurtured her courtesy of her photographer mother Laurie Simmons. This imbues her films with a sincere tenderness that defies their low production values. Tiny Furniture explores the postgraduate haze of 22-year-old protagonist Aura, who returns to her New York City home with an arts degree, 357 hits on her YouTube page, a boyfriend who's gone away to find himself and an ailing hamster. Aura is at times painfully self-indulgent, but instead of being insufferable it is a pleasure to experience her shaky, insecure journey which is at once deeply personal and universally relatable. Adding to the warm familial vibe is the fact that Dunham's mother and 17-year-old sister adopt their real-life roles in the narrative. All the subtle nuances of familial fondness and frustration are there, without the sense of contrivance that so frequently distinguishes the mumblecore genre. You get the feeling that Dunham just wants to share parts of her world, and that any accolades are secondary.
Then again, the sheer volume of praise heaped on Tiny Furniture can't be easily ignored. There are many remarkable things about the film. First, that it's only Dunham's second feature. More remarkable still is that this sophomore effort has received three nominations for the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards: Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay and Best Cinematography (ironic, really, considering the whole thing was filmed on a humble Canon digital).
TINY FURNITURE (2010)
Tiny Furniture also caught the eye of super-producer/director Judd Apatow, who approached Dunham to work on a TV series. The result may be a welcome salve to critics of Apatow's usual stable of misogynistic bodily function based comedies. It carries the title Girls and, as in all of Dunham's previous endeavours, she will direct, write and act in the project. She describes it as the lovechild of Tiny Furniture and Sex and the City — taking the making-it-in-New York paradigm and drenching it with her unique brand of offbeat social observations. HBO have already greenlighted Girls, essentially a supercharged, glossier version of Dunham's obscenely addictive webseries Delusional Downtown Divas, which chronicles the adventures of an absurdly coiffed trio of New York art hipsters.
You could say that Lena Dunham is the new voice of a generation that's too disenchanted and self-absorbed to express themselves with eloquence. Then again, there is something about the intimacy of her work that defies the 'generational voice' tag she's been lumped with. The more I've been absorbed into Leah Dunham's myriad of creative escapades, the more I wish I could share some of that "post-graduate delirium" with her. Lena Dunham's voice is the voice of graduate blues, the voice of quarter-life crises, the voice of awkward fumbles in the dark. Lena Dunham's shameless voice is the voice of your best friend. And that's what makes her work so damn likeable.
Words: Lillian McKnight
Top Image: Richard Koek for Filmmaker Magazine