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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tiny Furniture: Small-scale film produces mostly minor results

Posted By on Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 2:23 PM

Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke in Tiny Furniture (Photo credit: IFC)
  • Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke in Tiny Furniture (Photo credit: IFC)

By Matt Brunson

TINY FURNITURE

**1/2

DIRECTED BY Lena Dunham

STARS Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons

While Black Swan was deservedly snagging major honors left and right at last month’s Independent Spirit Awards ceremony, writer-director-star Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture managed to sneak away with the prize for Best First Screenplay. The rookie distinction in the category name is important (even if this is really Dunham’s second screenplay, after 2009’s film fest fodder Creative Nonfiction), since this low-budget indie effort showcases a newbie talent who has yet to fully blossom as a filmmaker.

If Woody Allen can spend decades working out his neuroses and anxieties on screen (there’s a reason many of his characters see psychiatrists), then apparently so can Dunham in this early effort. It’s hard to say how much of this movie stems from fact, but considering that her real-life mom (Laurie Simmons) and sister (Grace Dunham) portray her screen mom and sister, and also taking into account the rawness of some of the more confrontational scenes, it’s a good bet that there are some genuine issues being worked out here.

Unfortunately, these issues are self-absorbed to a fault. Dunham stars as Aura, who has just graduated from college with no idea what she’s going to do next. Moving back into her photographer-mom’s swanky Tribeca home, she sleeps late, bickers with her sister and mother (“I’m still figuring things out!” she bellows more than once to her parental unit), and only helps minimally around the house until she finally decides to take a job as a restaurant hostess. She spends time with her self-confident British friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke, a lot of fun) but only when she’s not mooning over the two guys who have entered her life, neither of whom seem especially drawn to this insecure girl: Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a freeloader who’s amusingly described as a minor YouTube celebrity (and isn’t everyone these days?), and Keith (David Call), a chef into Vicodin and Japanese tentacle rape.

As befits its modest origins, the quality of the production is all over the map, both in the varying skill levels of its performers and most specifically in Dunham’s ability as a writer. The aforementioned spats, for instance, are a lot more convincing than those moments when the auteur is going for an obvious laugh via heavily accented dialogue or catchphrases. Tiny Furniture is certainly more lively than Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, but they share a common flaw in that they’re both examples of intense navel-gazing, with fuzzy notions of identity and assertion only serving as so much belly-button lint.

(Tiny Furniture will be screened at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at Theatre Charlotte, 501 Queens Road. General admission is $8. For more information, go here.)

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