Sean K. Cureton

Tiny Furniture, Girls, and Lena Dunham

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on February 12, 2014 at 11:32 pm
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

Tiny Furniture (2010)
Directed by Lena Dunham
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

Tiny Furniture is the independent film, written, directed, and starring HBO’s Girls’ Lena Dunham, that launched Dunham’s fascinating, exciting, and revelatory emergence into the limelight of central cultural figures in the American contemporary social consciousness. Following the success and example of her contemporaries, such as Tina Fey, Greta Gerwig, and Ry Russo-Young (with whom she co-wrote Nobody Walks in 2012), Dunham has established herself firmly within the tradition of women writers whose work is primarily focused on the concept of female identity in an aggressively masculine culture. Where Fey pushed the cultural boundaries by integrating intelligence and a certain self-awareness into many of her improvised roles and characters, Dunham held back on broad comedy in favor of a more somber appreciation of the intelligence afforded by Fey. Where Gerwig introduced a certain self-assured fragility to the role of the leading lady in American film, Dunham pushed even further, exposing portraitures of female characters who were independent and dependent simultaneously, prone to both brilliant feats of self-expression and capability as well as bouts of crippling anxiety, doubt, and fear. Where Russo-Young provided an example of a woman fully capable of making her own creative decisions and narrative choices, Dunham took up the same position of authority, producing her own work as an intense gaze into her very soul, unadulterated, articulate, and unapologetically truthful to her own experience and identity as an individual against the grain of the most corrosive societal norms and expectations of what a woman should look and act like.

In the film, Lena Dunham plays yet another twenty something, fresh out of college, and living in New York, though where Hannah Horvath is empowered by the liberties of living in her own apartment in the Big Apple, Tiny Furniture’s Aura is shackled to a city that is her hometown. Where Hannah only has to see her parents sporadically on weekends of mercifully brief length, Aura returns to live with her mother and younger sister, trapped into a place of temperamental regression that proves to be quiet hard to shake off. Aura, like Hannah, is a brilliant fictive stand in for Dunham, embodying the neuroses and self-centeredness of a much younger and more naïve self. What makes Girls’ Hannah such a compelling character comes in her innately sympathetic engagement with the show’s audience, encouraging and scolding them for the very same behaviors and preoccupations that the character embodies. Likewise, Aura in Tiny Furniture is a figure head for the very same generation of dreamers, stuck in between their own ambitious, adolescent dreams and ideals, and the realities of compromise and wisdom that only come after leaving the realm of undergraduate wonder and awe far behind.

It is also in Tiny Furniture that Dunham first began to explore female sexual identity, and began a dialogue surrounding what makes a woman objectively beautiful by unabashedly filming several scenes in the nude herself, despite the fact that she does not possess the typical frame or build of your average Vogue supermodel. What’s more, Dunham seems intent on looking as un-composed as possible, filming her scenes in the most casual and un-feminized wardrobe choices imaginable. Dunham isn’t ashamed of her body, as can be seen in Aura’s art film where she takes a bath in a public fountain, forcing the viewer who might otherwise cringe at the sight of her naked body to pause and reflect upon what gender stereotypes inform such an instinctual repulsion. In its very essence, Dunham’s use of nudity is confrontational, forcing the viewer to examine and accept Dunham’s femininity and sexuality before any other female character in the film, even if the viewer might prefer to examine someone else’s. Dunham’s use of her own body and female form is bold and unsullied by anyone else’s gaze, male or female, making Tiny Furniture a monumental piece towards broadening the role of women in film as a whole.

Without a doubt, Dunham has ensconced herself within the pantheon of truly exceptional “voices of a generation,” speaking for and to the young adults of an era marked by a certain dissatisfaction with and antagonism towards a culture that has rendered them redundant. When Aura struggles in the film to find economic stability in the post-undergraduate world, she stumbles and falls into patterns of sophomoric behavior and apathy, reluctantly acquiescing to her inherited status of the hyper-articulate child, allowed a seat at the table without permission to speak. In this way, Dunham’s Tiny Furniture is the film of Generation Y, playing upon the group’s stereotyped self-centeredness and callousness, while offering another way into understanding the humanity of a generation that shows signs of becoming one of the truly lost generations of recent history. However, much of Tiny Furniture is uneven, prone to the inconsistencies of a creative voice still trying to work on its pitch and tone. Regardless, it is also one of the best films of the last couple of years, foreshadowing what was still to come from a talent so in touch with her subject and audience as to be one and the same with them both.

Tiny Furniture is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week


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