Home Video Hovel- Tiny Furniture
In releasing Lena Dunham’s second feature film, Tiny Furniture, on DVD and Blu-ray, the people at The Criterion Collection have forced us to have a conversation we weren’t having previously. We suddenly find ourselves wondering if this film fits into the loosely defined canon of “important classic and contemporary films” referenced in Criterion’s mission statement. Sometimes, lesser films will end up in the collection because of their contextual place in the career of the filmmaker (see the recent release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman, for example). It’s possible that Dunham will go on to produce a body of work powerful enough that every piece of it will be of interest. For the company to release such a recent film from such a young director, though, that film should cry out for inclusion on the basis of its artistic worth alone, like David Gordon Green’s George Washington or Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher. Tiny Furniture is not that good.
Dunham, in addition to her writing and directing duties, stars in the film as Aura, a recent college graduate who has moved back to the Manhattan home inhabited by her mother and her younger, high school aged sister (played by Dunham’s actual mother and sister). Now she must decide what to do with her life.
Tiny Furniture is not a mumblecore film. This is true mostly because there’s no such thing as a mumblecore film. But even more than that, its compositions are more conspicuous (sometimes even approaching mannered) than what one thinks of when one thinks of that false genre. Still, it is autobiographical and indulgent (not to mention almost exclusively white and privileged) in the way of so many other recent films that are essentially glorified blog entries.
What makes this one stand out a bit from the rest is Dunham herself. Narcissistic as she may be, she is possessed of a compelling and unique voice that is consistently watchable even when you’re annoyed with her. The chief component of her potent presence is the fact that she’s very funny. I don’t mean in the forced, sarcastic way that most bloggers strain to be funny. I mean that Dunham is a legitimate comic talent.
As enjoyable as the film can be at times, it is less than the sum of its parts. Even though Dunham is able to acknowledge and even poke fun at her family’s comfortable financial situation, her ultimate failure is the inability to make us empathize with her hardships regardless. Wealthy people have struggles that can make for gripping drama once the universal elements are located. Tiny Furniture doesn’t even seem to bother searching for them.
That said, it’s still funny enough for me to want to watch it again.
The impressive special features include a discussion between Dunham and Nora Ephron, an interview with Paul Schrader and a bevy of Dunham’s other work, including four short films and her entire first feature, Creative Nonfiction.