Aura, a fresh college graduate, moves back into the high-end Tribeca loft where her mother and sister still live. The popularity of her frank, homespun YouTube videos gestures toward a potential future in film, but the job Aura lucks into is a daytime hosting gig at a neighborhood restaurant. Faced with a situation that resembles her adolescence, she quickly regresses and takes on the hesitant restlessness of a teen. A small film about enormous fears, Tiny Furniture looks to be one of IFC's biggest draws of 2010, with success on VOD and DVD to follow.
Aura is played by writer/director Lena Dunham, and Dunham's real life mother lends support as Aura's mother Siri, a photographer who specializes in portraits of literally tiny furniture (like those used in dollhouses). Aura herself is as diminutive as these furnishings, so it's thematically appropriate she fights her seeming insignificance with insolence and bluster. She and her pet hamster form a duo that compels adoration and pity in equal measure. Aura conveniently crosses paths with two men who barely notice her, but that doesn't slow her advances. Even while sleeping in her bed, Jed (Alex Karpovsky) would like her to leave him alone. Keith (David Call) is only interested in her prescription meds but takes whatever else he can from her along the way. Jed is a minor YouTube celebrity with a character he calls The Nietschian Cowboy (the spelling error seems intentional) who rides a rocking horse while spouting "philosophy." Something there is fraudulent or ironic—our inability to distinguish between those qualities speaks to a fundamental confusion among the characters. In Aura's life, casualness and carelessness look the same, and irony, which is a kind of currency, conceals effort.
Aura's friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) is a pretty, plastic partygirl with a possibly fake English accent. She's the sort who's always at the gallery openings but isn't an artist herself. The most crushing comment on the disappointment of youth comes when she recounts a magic moment in a rainy park that ended in molestation. "I just decided that's what they call 'spontaneous'," Charlotte concludes. It's not the catharsis you were hoping for when you decided you wouldn't like this Factory Girl knockoff, but the veneer that conceals her chagrin is the key to her survival in this world, as well as the reason for her authority with Aura. Here, this is what passes for growing up. In comparison, Aura's whiny sprawl seems lamentable particularly because it's no help to her survival.
Much will be made of the awkward but often slight humor in the film, as well as its focus on female experience. Dunham is working on a cable TV series for producer Judd Apatow and there are rumors of collaborations with Sofia Coppola. Whatever the medium, we'll be seeing more from Dunham, who may have found the mainstream media equivalent of "going viral."
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simons, Alex Karpovsky, David Call and Jemima Kirke
Director/Screenwriter: Lena Dunham
Producer: Kyle Martin and Alicia Van Couvering
Running time: 99 min
Release date: November 12 NY, November 26 LA