Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tiny Furniture

Tiny Furniture (dir. Lena Dunham, 2010) might be the only Criterion Collection film I’ve seen that was an utter disappointment. The film’s characters are blanker than blank: alienated, inarticulate, self-obsessed, devoid of such human resources as empathy, self-awareness, and skepticism. The protagonist Aura (played by Dunham) is a new college-grad with nothing to show for her education. She makes choices that are beyond bewildering, and her mother Siri (played by Dunham’s mother Laurie Simmons) seems beyond caring. There’s very little that’s engaging here: the film’s ninety-nine minutes pass at a very slow speed. When I imagine how my college-grad children and their peers might respond to Tiny Furniture, I suspect that they too would be unimpressed and exasperated. Dunham’s work does not look to my eyes like a portrait of a generation.

I found Tiny Furniture via the New Titles list at my university library and did not know until last night that Lena Dunham is now Big, the creator of the HBO series Girls. This week’s New York Times Magazine has a short interview with Dunham, just one of many Times appearances in the last few months.

[Roger Ebert is a national treasure, but his taste in movies often baffles me. He likes Tiny Furniture, calling it “well-crafted.” Well-crafted: yipes.]

comments: 8

count reeshard said...

"Tiny..." got NY Times coverage - as it was being shot, if memory serves - largely I suspect because Laurie Simmons, a big-deal downtown Manhattan artist, is the mom of the director/star. The Times' description of the plot, despite being euphemistically worded, was enough to put me off the whole enterprise. Am still amazed that the bratty child has made the leap to HBO.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, there seem to be some serious elements of influence and support behind this career. If I’d known more about the film, I’d have been put off too. :)

Richard said...

Did you see the recent piece on Dunham and "Girls" in the "New York Review of Books" (Elaine Blair, 6/7/12)? If there are "serious elements of influence and support" at work here, it seems to be engendering some serious appreciation.

Michael Leddy said...

Now I have. Thanks, Richard.

Rachel said...

I really, really like GIRLS, so I'll have to check this out and see how it compares.

Michael Leddy said...

RL, we’ll have to talk about Lena Dunham and her work.

Anonymous said...

When I first watched this movie, I had the same reaction. Reflecting on it, I do think there was more there than I perhaps gave it credit for. First off, it did leave me with some questions about how young struggling artists like Dunham frame what they are doing when they are in the shadows of such a towering artistic parent (though she seems not to have struggled very long). I had my provincial parents to rebel against when making my art. Like many people from my generation, before "The Creative Class" became such a phenomenon among elites, my parents hated the very thought that I would devote my life to writing. Reading was the worst thing you could waste your time on, writing, a pipe dream. They refused to let me take music lessons on the opinion that I would get "ideas." I was to go to school to be an elementary school teacher, period, and watch my figure so that I could perhaps marry well--that was the sum total of vision I was allowed to have in my life, according to my parents.

So breaking free of those expectations artistically was a natural, necessary part of maturation and defining myself. In Durham's case, she's got the benefits of big-deal downtown artist mom, and of the upbringing that she "could make herself what she wants", but also that baggage, and I think that that baggage is very much in evidence here. If there's nothing to constrain you--not finances, not security, not provincialism, etc etc, you don't really have anybody but yourself for the bad art you are making, and we all make pretty bad art early on. There's clearly something going on there, right, in the way she gives away her mother's food and wine without asking; she thinks she can take from her mother (and I cheered when her mother confronted her on it.)

By backing out of the roommate agreement with her friend (who does, in fact, have provincialism to overcome), the protagonist here shows she's really not that dedicated to breaking free of the shadow; it's too secure--we're see her be too tepidly interested in the notion of breaking out onto her own. Yeah, the hostess job is a waste of time when you look at the money you are making, but it's also provided the grist for art--and the character fails to see that (but the filmmaker didn't).

The choices that make no sense to you, too, are probably highly gendered, at least some of them. I'd hazard to say that a LOT of us have the particularly yucky and painful story of the guy we knew full well was a complete jerk but he was so edgy and sexy and we thought perhaps things would be different and he'd be a different guy and he's so dangerous and sexy and...and...and it all winds up being utterly squalid. And the guy who pretends to be our friend but then just takes advantage of us, whether it's copying homework or bumming $5. This is the part of the world that women face when young, when faced a cadre of men that are far, far less worthy than our esteemed Orange Crate Art blogger or the boy he may have raised, and who see women's desire for relationships and connections as weaknesses/stupidities to be exploited.

My four cents.

Michael Leddy said...

You make a good case for this movie perhaps having more to it than met my eye. Part of what struck me about the family (which is missing Dunham’s real-life painter father) is that the three women seem more like roommates than family. Asking your daughter to pay you back for food? If I were Aura’s mother, I’d be wondering about the quarter-million I spent on my daughter’s education.

I’m interested in seeing this film again with my kids later this summer (if they’re game). I know that I’m not the target audience, but I’ve read several things online from young women who find the film off-putting.

I didn’t know you were back online, Lisa. I liked your post about the Perry Mason world. I’m going to pay more attention to Paul Drake’s cars.