When Lena Dunham's "Tiny Furniture" debuted in 2010, it became somewhat of a critical darling with near unanimous praise from mainstream outlets. Heck, Dunham even won an Independent Spirit Award for its screenplay. While the film is an interesting, if somewhat slight, indie--it probably plays to a more niche market than the critics would have you suspect. Dunham's work (she is its writer, director, and star) and characters ably showcase a combination of post-collegiate ennui and over-educated (and pseudo-intellectual) entitlement. Set in a fashionable New York City young, artistic and urban environment--the film's sardonic tone and cultural critique was sometimes reminiscent (to me) of the works of Whit Stillman (Metropolitan) but with an edgier and more modernized vibe. But the quirky story, which can be quite funny, also achieves a quiet poignancy when you least expect it. I suspect that, in many ways, "Tiny Furniture" will be fairly divisive when discovered by a wider audience. While I do think many will embrace its plentiful charms, I think it will have just as many detractors who might not connect with its core characters.
Dunham plays a recent film school graduate who returns home to live with her mother and sister in New York. Reeling with uncertainty, she has no idea what to do with her life. She reconnects with old friends, take a entry level job, spars with her sister and generally just goes with the flow with a rather apathetic view toward the future. Some of the film's funniest moments are provided by the almost elitist and superior set of friends that Dunham weaves throughout the picture. Kids who have more confidence and entitlement than ambition or talent. This is a world where YouTube has become a proving ground of celebrity, where reading a book is the height of intellectual status. It is a subtle skewering of a generation yet to find a purpose. But although I really enjoyed some of the offbeat humor in these sequences, it is rather stylized and probably not for every taste. The segments of home life are just as interesting, and the final quiet moment between daughter and mother is, perhaps, the film's strongest and most memorable scene.
"Tiny Furniture" is, in no way, a plot-driven piece. If you need a big story, this won't please you. This is a character driven indie that creates a mood and allows its characters to grow and shift in slight, but significant, ways. Dunham, as a writer, has a very specific voice. As an actress, she is unafraid to showcase (and expose) a very personal, and oftentimes unpleasant, side to her persona. And yet, she remains eminently identifiable. I also really liked Laurie Simmons, as her mother, who provides quite a few laughs throughout but whose complexities provide a lot of the film's shadings. While "Tiny Furniture" is not perfect, I really liked its sensibilities which were simultaneously absurd AND real providing for a winning combination. KGHarris, 12/11.