178) Tiny Furniture (2010) Dir: Lena Dunham Date Released: November 2010 Date Seen: May 26, 2010 Rating: 1.5/5 (Note: this is how I felt after seeing it; don't comment on this rating unless it's to high five me; otherwise respond to the below post)
"I hate you all. I hate you all. I hate you all, myself most of all." -A pre-transformation Renegade in Zardoz-
I had a brief conversation with a colleague and good friend at a McDonalds just before watching Get Him to the Greek together. This was less than an hour after I first saw and gagged on Tiny Furniture. My uncontrollable anger has abated somewhat since then but only by a scooch. This review isn't a reaction to any of the smart, well-written reactions to the film; I love that other critics found something in the film worth defending so passionately. I just couldn't take this film. The below reaction is an infinitely more articulate version of what I tried to say during that cheap, artery-clogging repast from a few months ago. Because ranting and raving about "The affect, the incompetence!" while gobbling up french fries is a pretty shitty way to criticize a film, even casually.
Part of my distaste for Tiny Furniture is a personal reaction to the film's blithe depiction of growing up ignorant and affluent and part of it is my reaction to what I maintain is Dunham's tendency of simply pitying her lead protagonist's lack of worldly knowledge. But a lot of what I don't like about the film can be found in a specific scene. It's a perfect example of the film's seemingly accidental intelligence. Dunham's avatar Aura has just gotten her first post-grad paycheck from a waitressing job that she almost instantly picked up after moving back home to her mother's duplex (or is it triplex?) apartment. The check is for $197 and some change. Several scenes before this, we hear her boss say that she would earn something like $12 an hour (please correct me if I'm wrong on the numbers but please be kind if I am wrong; I are sensitive). As some have argued, there is a romantically motivated reason motivating her departure. But that paltry first payment is the catalyst that brings her to quit.
What's most frustrating about this sequence is that there doesn't seem to be a link between the scene where she learns what she should expect to be paid and that one where she gets what she's owed. In theory, that should be the crux of this comedy of self-loathing: the disconnect between the two. But there's no overt or even implicit acknowledgment that the paltry sum Aura earns is an exaggerated product of her self-absorbed worldview. I'd argue that this is one of the only flights of fancy in the film, right alongside the scene where Alex Karpovsky reads Woody Allen's Without Feathers in bed, reminding the viewer of the self-involved comedic impulse Dunham is fatalistically attracted to.
But that reading is just an assumption of intent based on what Dunham tries to project about her self rather than what her film actually achieves. So much of Tiny Furniture's limpid comedy of faux pases (this can't be right) suggests Dunham made her second feature because of an ill-conceived impulse to look back at her precious little life through the lens of a self-caricature that serves as a receptacle of everything she regrets about her recent past. In other words, there was nothing in the film that made watching Dunham self-flagellate a churlishly needy version of herself enticing, moving, engaging, whatever. I just saw the film's affected stance.
From my severely limited vantage point, I can only imagine enjoying Tiny Furniture if Dunham either debased Aura more consistently--ie: a lot less distracting asides that only prove the vapidity of her friends or the unfailingly dull nature of her sex life--or prove that the drama she's presenting is a parody of a time in her life she understands more about now than she did while experiencing it. I left the theater thinking that Tiny Furniture had absolutely no bite to it and that Dunham was just too sheepish in putting down Aura's callow decisions. Even the now infamous tube sex scene ends with the bartender dude abandoning Aura in the street, which begs the viewer to pity her. But we have to like Aura to want to condescend to her. No, thanks.