I often feel like I've had my fill of movies about twentysomethings, often fresh out of school, who don't know what they want to do and life is so hard and they have to take money from their parents and oh, the poor things. As I get older, my patience with this kind of person -- or character -- dwindles. In Tiny Furniture, however, writer-director Lena Dunham shows us a young female college grad in such a genuine and personal way that it's far more sympathetic than annoying.
Aura (Lena Dunham) has just graduated from college in Ohio and been dumped by a serious boyfriend who left her to go find himself. She finds herself in NYC, living in her mother's spacious combination of home and artist's studio, and bickering with her sister Nadine (Grace Dunham) almost immediately. Her roommate from Ohio intends to move into town and share a place with her, but in the meantime, Aura needs to find and keep a job. She also has to deal with her family as well as her chaotic friend Charlotte, "internet celebrity" Jed (Alex Karpovsky) who is in town trying to make deals, and a sous-chef at the restaurant where she works as hostess.
The movie takes Aura's problems seriously -- she has no idea what she should be doing with her life, and I kept wanting to simultaneously hug her and shake her. She's posted revealing and brave videos to the internet, but can't confront the guy who's sharing her bed about exactly what his intentions are. She can't contribute equitably to the running of the household, but expects that it is her home too, and that she will be provided with food and wine ... and family affection. And she's standing in the shadow of her mother's successful career as an artist as she decides if she wants to create art herself and what it will be.
The movie has a skewed sense of humor that works very well to counterbalance Aura's confusion and angst. Charlotte and Jed are almost stereotypes, larger than life, and yet we've all encountered a few drama queens and arrogant jerks in our past that may cause these scenes to resonate. For me, the scenes of Aura and her sister were extremely familiar -- my little sister and I never fought quite that much, but I understood perfectly the tension between them. I loved the way Aura and Charlotte reacted to Sis's party, and Jed's goofy internet video, and the ultimate destination of Aura and the sous-chef.
I realized at one point in Tiny Furniture that Aura wears a lot of foundation garments. This is not some 85-pound waiflike flower -- Aura probably looks a lot like I did out of college, but with better hair. In several scenes, we see her struggling with unflattering underwear and Spanx and the other items of clothing that many women don't want anyone to know they're wearing, in an attempt to show the best and most compact figure possible to the outside world. It is a small detail, but watching her fight with her clothing so often is reflective of the way she is struggling with every aspect of her current life ... and instead of rolling my eyes, I had nothing but empathy. Strong characterizations and attention to detail make Tiny Furniture a memorable film, well deserving of the Best Narrative Feature award at SXSW this year.