Post-graduate inertia looms like an abyss in the prodigiously talented 24-year-old Lena Dunham’s first theatrical feature. Still reeling from a bad end-of-undergrad breakup, dumpy, self-pitying Aura (played with deadpan aplomb by Dunham herself) moves back into her mother’s apartment immediately after college, floundering in a directionless wasteland only exacerbated by the Tribeca loft’s stark, Kubrickian interior decor.
Butting heads with her bitchy teenage sister while forever disappointing poor famous-artist mum, Aura botches a go-nowhere job as the day hostess at a restaurant that’s only open nights, her fickle affections shifting between a hilariously smug viral video comedian (Alex Karpovsky) and a sleazy sous chef (David Call). Lounging around the loft pantsless and often not bothering to shower, Aura’s poor-little-rich-girl malaise would probably be insufferable were it not for Dunham’s acute knack for self-flagellation.
Sort of like a Greenberg for girls, Tiny Furniture follows its not-particularly-likable heroine through stupid mistakes and selfish choices, yet the movie offers glancing and at times devastatingly funny hints at the world beyond our protagonist’s blinkered narcissism. (Dunham playing the lead, as well as casting her real-life mom and sister to play Aura’s mom and sister has brought up the question of authorial distance in certain circles, but I found the film too lacerating to qualify as a mere diary entry.) It also has one of the most cringingly humiliating sex scenes I’ve ever seen.
Beautifully photographed by Jody Lee Lipes, Tiny Furniture isn’t just notable for being a microbudget indie that sprang for a tripod. Dunham shoots in carefully composed widescreen frames, allowing entire scenes to play out in very long takes with no camera movement. The static visuals and muted performances emphasize Aura’s insulated torpor, with the only livewire energy coming from Jemimia Kirke’s gleefully spoiled Charlotte, a bad influence with fake tattoos to rival her phony British accent.
Eschewing the easy lessons of many coming-of-age stories, Dunham leaves the film deliberately unresolved, closing on a throwaway gesture of hilarious laziness. We’re left unsure if Aura is ever going to get her shit together and become an adult, but judging from Tiny Furniture Dunham will grow up to be one hell of a filmmaker.