In the spirit of saying goodbye to Girls, this week’s #TBT film focuses on where it all started: Tiny Furniture.
Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham’s (writer-director-star) first feature film, premiered at SXSW in 2010 and won the Jury Prize, setting forth the career that Dunham has today. Tiny Furniture centers on Aura (Dunham) who returns home to New York after graduating from her Ohio college.
Trying to fit back into her pre-college life, Aura has trouble coming home to her successful photographer mother Siri and overachieving younger sister Nadine, who are played by Dunham’s actual mother and sister. Capturing the awkwardness of post-college life and the transitional period before you find a quality job or THE job, Dunham sets the tone of restlessness through Aura’s uneasy relations with her family, old and new friends, and her coworkers at her part time job as a daytime restaurant hostess. This feeling is translated well on screen and, after revisiting it during the Girls-era of Dunham’s career, it’s easy to recognize that she’s comfortable in this web of uncertainty, processing, messiness, and self-reflection. Aura feels like the early stages of Hannah Horvath and the supporting cast of familiar faces like Alex Karpovsky as Jed (Ray on Girls) and Jemima Kirke as Charlotte (aka Jessa on Girls) helps familiarize these characters. Both Jed and Charlotte are reminiscent of their Girls counterparts. Well, their Girls counterparts are reminiscent of them.
There are many qualities to Tiny Furniture that reinforce its high praise and accolades. It’s stylistically sound, it features incredible references to other filmmakers and artists like Woody Allen, it’s simplistic but complex, and it’s one of the realest portrayals of the human experience outside of the documentary genre. Dunham respectfully illustrates a world that encapsulates real qualities in people: selfishness, passive aggression, discontent, sadness, loneliness, privilege, and more. It feels like the scope of observation that Dunham used to carefully craft the set up of Girls, and it’s an extraordinary experience to lay the two out side-by-side and see her discovery unfold. Lena Dunham, as problematic as she can be, has proven that she is able to take a snapshot of life, study it, and bring it back to life in her work. Her exploration of self-doubt, managing relationships developing and falling apart, measuring self-worth against other people, and growing up is very real and raw.
Without Tiny Furniture it’s hard to imagine that Girls would have ever existed, or if it did, it may not have ever reached the popularity and influence it has today. Executive producer of Girls, Judd Apatow, reached out to Lena Dunham after watching Tiny Furniture and the rest is history. If you like HBO’s Girls, enjoy the independent film world, and/or just want to watch someone else struggle through adulthood without looking in the mirror, I recommend checking out Tiny Furniture as soon as you can.
Tiny Furniture is available to stream on Netflix and Showtime, and is available for rental on Amazon, iTunes and more. It can also be purchased through the Criterion Collection web store.