FilmSlashTV: ‘Tiny Furniture’

Feb. 15, 2011 | 2 Comments

REVIEW BY BURL BURLINGAME / bburlingame@staradvertiser.com

In “Just Go With It,” Jennifer Aniston, great-looking, bursting with movie-star charisma, is cast as an average working girl. She takes off her glasses, dons a bikini and suddenly there are hosannas. This is Hollywood’s view of reality. It’s amped up with impossible expectations. We look up at movies, not down.

Real people are often more like Aura, the heroine of “Tiny Furniture,” lumpish, passive, a little dull, afraid to show humor, with a sad-sack figure that will never appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That’s not criticism. That’s just the way things are. Aura knows that better than anyone.

It’s something of a misnomer to call Aura a heroine. She does nothing heroic.

Aura is stranded on the desert island of college graduates. She has a near-worthless degree in film “theory,” her boyfriend has decamped to the wilderness to “get in touch with his spirit ancestors,” she has returned to what she thought of as home, but which now has become the place where her mother and sister live. Mom is a famous, successful concept artist, little sister is not only a prodigy, she’s thinner, taller and cuter than Aura, and doesn’t mind letting her know it. The home is a ghastly and sterile concoction of spotless white cabinets and mail-order knickknacks. It has no personality whatsoever.

Still, for Aura, it’s the only home she’s ever known, and she clings to any piece of it she can squirrel away. Mom and sis would prefer Aura get out there in the world and find herself, but frankly, Aura doesn’t know who she is. I can’t even add “yet” because Aura keeps making dumb choices throughout the film, and spirals lower. Her one girl friend is not only pretty and flirty, she has a pretentious British accent.

Aura peevishly begins a couple of relationships with annoying men, and we get to ponder the harshness of terrible choices. Do you prefer the moocher guy who refuses to have sex with you, or the guy who just feels like nailing you because he’s bored? It’s not exactly Sophie’s Choice, but it does weigh on Aura’s mind. And it doesn’t hurt as much as Mom not allowing her to snuggle up any more, like a child.

“Tiny Furniture” is more drifty than plotted, but that’s because it’s a character study of a young person without great options standing at a crossroads, and none of the paths look promising. It is, however, finely observed and has a real sense of humor about people who have none.

The film is getting a lot of attention because Aura is played by filmmaker Lena Dunham, who not only also wrote and directed the film, she enlisted her real-life mother and sister to play her mother and sister, and filmed it in her real family home. This is no home movie, though. What matters is on the screen. It’s very Woody Allen, particularly in Dunham’s refusal to film herself in an attractive way. It also has a killer of well-written closing scene, so good that you realize — with a smile — how well scripted the rest of the film was. Two stars out of four.
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“Tiny Furniture” has become a darling of the indie film circuit, and will screen one time only at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, the Honolulu Academy of Arts’ Doris Duke Theatre. It’s part of the Friends of Film Friday series, and food and wine and chat begin at about 6 p.m. in the Academy’s aft courtyard. Click here for more details.

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    While the apartment is minimalist white, sharp, and clean, Aura is
    heavy, homely, and slow. The honesty of not casting a hottie as most
    directors would is one of the film’s noble features, and that this
    director casts herself in unflattering circumstances (Aura has her
    first complete sex, boring I would say, in a street construction pipe
    and wears ill-fitting clothes) is a sign of the realism rare in most
    contemporary comedies about 20 somethings. In fact, director Dunham has
    achieved a universality anyway because the players in this comedy
    aren’t a whole lot different from the young sit-com residents of the
    last 30 years, except they all had jobs or prospects, and alas, Aura
    has none.

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    While the apartment is minimalist white, sharp, and clean, Aura is
    heavy, homely, and slow. The honesty of not casting a hottie as most
    directors would is one of the film’s noble features, and that this
    director casts herself in unflattering circumstances (Aura has her
    first complete sex, boring I would say, in a street construction pipe
    and wears ill-fitting clothes) is a sign of the realism rare in most
    contemporary comedies about 20 somethings. In fact, director Dunham has
    achieved a universality anyway because the players in this comedy
    aren’t a whole lot different from the young sit-com residents of the
    last 30 years, except they all had jobs or prospects, and alas, Aura
    has none.