Friday, August 3, 2012

Tiny Furniture: A Little Lena Dunham Goes a Long Way

Once Natalie bestowed HBO Go(d) upon me, for some reason I didn't hit up the latest season of Game of Thrones or finally catch up on Deadwood. Instead, I was drawn to Girls, billed as a latter-day Sex in the City but with a more realistic depiction of both New York City and the (sex) lives of young women. I've watched the entire season one and a half times, and though it isn't as groundbreaking or edgy as a) it's marketed to be or b) it sort of wants to be, it hits me where I live. So while waiting for season 2 (which according to Twitter will feature Christopher Noth perhaps as Mr. Big! Meta!), I turned to writer-director Lena Dunham's equally autobiographical first movie, Tiny Furniture, as Girls methadone. And it was about as satisfying.

Let me begin by saying I have a lot of admiration for Lena Dunham. Though plenty have spoken about the advantage, unfair or otherwise, that Dunham and her costars share in the industry, she did write and direct a feature film at twenty-five. And for my money, she does a better job translating the Apatovian trope of perpetual adolescence to a female sensibility than Bridesmaids. She is also a fearless physical actress, and I find Girls compulsively watchable.

Though several Girls regulars show up in Tiny Furniture--including Alex Karpovsky, who plays one of my favorite characters and Jemima Kirke who plays essentially the same free-spirited and irresistibly charming narcissist she does on the show--there's something about the film that wasn't as appealing to me as the series. Which is surprising, as the film is much more ambitious. Rather than focus entirely on Lena Dunham's avatar (a wry, insecure, not as charming narcissist) and her friends and boyfriends, Tiny Furniture is equally, if not more, concerned with Aura's relationship with her mother and sister (played by Dunham's real-life family). As Aura languishes in her artist mother's fabulous apartment after college graduation and halfheartedly tries to find a job and full-heartedly tries to find a boyfriend, she reads through her mother's journals from the 70s, when she was also in her 20s. The conversation the two have at the end of the film, when Aura finally gets the invitation to share her mom's bed that she's been angling for the whole movie, is both a moving representation of how mothers and daughters begin to become friends, and also a fairly unsettling indication of how little Aura has grown.

I think the reason Tiny Furniture left me a little cold and a little annoyed was that Girls reminds me less of Sex and the City and more of Seinfeld. The four girlfriends share the same casual and witty self-involvement of Jerry and Co. that lead them to solipsistic statements and actions that would be staggeringly obtuse at best and borderline sociopathic at worst if they weren't so sincere about it all. Girls is nowhere near as funny as Seinfeld, but I think it shares a similar ethos--and similar limitations. Thirty minute situations highlight these character types to their greatest effect. Tiny Furniture, with its hour-and-forty-minute run-time, gives you a bit too much opportunity to get frustrated and bored with the characters making the same mistakes and the same justifications. So unless you really want to hear "sweat the bed" used in a sentence, I'd stick with the series.

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