Lena Dunham’s self-starring second feature is a painfully authentic anti-coming-of-ager.
While countless reels of celluloid have been committed to the travails of grown men in arrested development, less has been made of the equivalent female experience. Lena Dunham’s self-starring second feature sees 22-year-old Aura return home from college in the kind of post-graduation delirium that’ll feel familiar to anyone who’s completed a degree or fawned over The Graduate.
But Aura’s problem is that nobody is trying to seduce her. Nobody, in her view, seems all that interested in her at all – not her emotionally distant photographer mother or spikily laconic little sister (played by Dunham’s real family members) nor the two men with whom she becomes not-quite-involved, both of whom in their self-absorption seem cherry-picked to augment her insecurities.
Whatever your feelings on this brand of meta, cast-your-own-family filmmaking, you’d be hard pressed to accuse Dunham of self-aggrandisement. Harsh lighting and an even harsher lack of makeup aside, she’s thoroughly aware of her character’s post-adolescent narcissism. Indeed, the film’s tagline pokes gentle fun at it: ‘Aura would like you to know that she is having a very, very hard time.’
But this is not a film that holds its characters at contemptuous arm’s length. Aura is consistently sympathetic despite her bad decisions, not least because this is the type of young woman we don’t see nearly enough on screen. Smart without being right, verbally dextrous without being – god forbid – Juno, charismatic without being beautiful, Dunham gives a delicately ferocious performance. There’s a smart turn, too, from Jemima Kirke as languid party girl Charlotte, convincing as both a bad influence and a good friend.
If there’s a fault, it’s that Dunham’s camera feels too mannered at times. Several shots of Aura and her sister are sliced neatly down the centre by a dividing wall, a visual symbol that distracts rather than informs. Where Tiny Furniture soars, however, is in its dynamics and its beautifully frayed edges.
Aura’s first date with YouTube ‘celebrity’ Jed crackles with naturalistic wit, while one tense phone conversation with a friend from college is almost unbearable to watch, so acute is its portrayal of a robust relationship falling by the wayside.
The Graduate for the Instagram generation.
Laconic surfaces give way to compellingly fraught exchanges.
A painfully authentic anti-coming-of-ager.