A recent college graduate is finding it hard to adjust to life outside academia in Tiny Furniture, a grainy little comedy.
Aura (Lena Dunham, also the film’s writer and director) arrives back home in New York City after graduating from college in Ohio. She has vague plans to eventually move into an apartment with a college friend, but for the immediate future she is sharing a room with her younger sister Nadine (Grace Dunham) in their mother’s (Laurie Simmons) loft. Siri, their mother, is a successful photographer whose latest pieces feature miniature furniture photographed with, for example, a regular-sized high-heeled shoe. Some sort of film major, Aura made a student film (a rather embarrassing one) that has won her hits on YouTube but not a real sense of what to do with her life. Even her connections to friends feel slight. She goes to a party where she meets Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a minor YouTube celebrity in town whose plan for a comedy show is only slightly less vague than Aura’s life plans. She also reconnects with Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), a childhood friend and now a party girl. Charlotte helps Aura get a job as a day hostess at a restaurant open only for dinner — it’s a low-pressure job but somehow Aura manages to do it shabbily. Her main focus seems to be flirting with one of the chefs, Keith (David Call).
Tiny Furniture reminds me of the Whit Stillman film Metropolitan — both movies are a bit mannered and deal with young people ill-at-ease with their place in the world. And both movies could be seen as either very funny or very irritating depending on your mindset and possibly on your age. Tiny Furniture feels more self-indulgent and more self-pitying, which again makes it more raw and maybe also more annoying. I can see someone making an argument both ways and I would agree with either argument. The movie is making too much of a period in life when your problems ultimately aren’t as big as you think they are (remember what qualified as “tragic” when you were 22?) or as dramatic as you think they are, and also it is pointing them out for the “tiny furniture” they are.
The movie also reminded me, in a very stripped-down way, of a Jane Austen novel. The movie takes a microscope to a specific kind of domestic life and picks apart the etiquette and the pitfalls and even the small joys. The movie might get absurdist at times but the relationships between the mother and her daughters and between the two sisters feel perfectly calibrated.
Details are a strong suit of this movie, which captures people of that age in a delightfully realistic way. Aura is quite pretty but she also seems like a real girl — not completely confident with herself, capable of both dressing up and dressing her (wonderfully imperfect) body badly. The apartment her family lives in is fantastic and it is also too small to contain the whirlwind of confusion Aura faces.
Tiny Furniture is funny and occasionally touching and overall a pleasure to watch, particularly when you are well removed from the life circumstances it portrays.
Not rated. Written and directed by Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture is an hour and 38 minutes long and distributed in limited release by IFC Films. It is available through the IFC Films section of Comcast OnDemand.