Thursday, 29 March 2012

Tiny Furniture

Heralded as the future of American comedy, Lena Dunham is somewhat of an internet phenomenon who is being granted the opportunity to be the voice for a generation.  Tiny Furniture is her first feature-length film, and is very much an autobiographical piece where she plays a version of herself with family and friends surrounding her.
Dunham plays Aura, a recently graduated student from an art college in Ohio, who has split up with her 'feminist boyfriend' of two years.  Aura returns to her mother's home, Siri (played by Laurie Simmons, a famous New York photographer - and Dunham's real life mother).
When we first encounter Siri she is busy photographing miniature furniture/props (which gives the movie its title) with a model who is her sister Nadine (Grace Dunham - real life sister), who is immediately competitive with her elder sibling, 'So how long are you going to be living in our house?'  This line spoken from a low angle shot, with Nadine towering over Aura symbolises the dynamic of the two.  Whilst Aura is talented, Nadine is even more so in terms of going to a more celebrated college, and word is mentioned of her winning a prestigious poetry prize (as Grace did in real-life).
They say to young writers, write what you know. Dunham has taken this to the nth degree, without it being over-celebratory or self-important.  Dunham's skill is writing believable dialogue for the situation, not prompting histrionics or hyperbole from her well acted characters, albeit with a SoHo edge to it of self-reflexion, 'I just got off a plane from Ohio - I'm in a post-graduate delirium'
Dunham's skill in the future will be the reliance of this dialogue and writing.  Like a fellow New York writer, Woody Allen, she will not raise the bar in terms of film language.  Her positioning of the camera at medium shot allows the actors to inhabit the screen and move as they would in real-life, there are no fawning close ups which intrude upon a moment of reflection.
Another plus for Dunham is that she portrays a woman (albeit a version of herself) that is one rarely seen on screen in American cinema.  From the outset, she is not afraid to walk around her home in knickers and a t-shirt, depicting her pudgy frame for all to see with no shame; oddly it does not put you off her as a person, you reward her bravery and lack of shyness by empathising her character and the predicaments she comes across.
It is a small piece, should she get a job or not bother, should she date this guy or the other guy, I felt by the end it became a love letter to her mother - who has remained successful and raised two children brilliantly.  Dunham's hero is her mother and in a lovely conclusion, she tells her Mum, that she wants to be as successful as her, her mother responds in kind stating she will be more so.
Dunham is helped by the sheenness of the cinematography, photographed by Jody Lee Lipes who went on to shoot Martha Marcy May Marlene this year and a typically bohemian soundtrack by Teddy Blanks.
All in all, this is an accessible piece of cinema for people who want to see a platform for a new comedy voice; unlike say Tina Fey or Kirsten Wiig, which embraces the looniness of Saturday Night Live sketch comedy, Dunham's voice is the eye for detail and behavioural patterns, and a kitch in the normal - the nice guy turns out to be a creep. 
Dunham is currently working on a HBO series called Girls produced by Judd Apatow, as for her next foray into mainstream cinema, hopefully she will be given a larger canvas to work upon away from her comfort zone.
Tiny Furniture is released on Friday 30th March from Independent Pictures

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