Indie films tend to isolate their fans. While some audience members will cry “genius!” most will call bullshit. With her new production, Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham has created a shallow micro-budget flick that, despite a few bright spots, fails to break away from the pretentious culture it came out of.
Tiny Furniture follows Aura, played by writer-director Dunham, as she moves back into her family’s expansive TriBeCa apartment after her final year of college. A film major with a stagnant YouTube account, Aura is self-diagnosed with “post-grad delirium,” a kind of “where do I go from here?” predicament. To make matters worse, she is recovering from a rough breakup and struggling to win the attention of her mother, who is more concerned with Aura’s over-achieving little sister.
Soon, however, her long-lost best friend Charlotte enters the picture. A British airhead, Charlotte is too high to even know whether she actually likes Aura or just wants someone to be around. Aura’s life gets more complicated when she falls for both Keith, a handsome, conceited chef played by Gossip Girl’s David Call, and Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a broke comedian and YouTube “sensation” whom Aura, desperate for a relationship, houses while her family is out of town. By the end, she is faced with the prospect of splitting an apartment with a buddy from college. Still tempted by the lethargic lifestyle at her family’s apartment, Aura’s indecisiveness brings the film to its lackluster climax.
Tiny Furniture explores Aura’s relationships with friends, family, and potential lovers through too-slowly paced one-on-one conversations that tepidly invite the audience to question not only what Aura wants from the people surrounding her, but more notably, what they want from her. She is constantly being used, but doesn’t do much to stop it. Though inconsistent in her delivery, Dunham’s degrading portrayal of Aura occasionally resonates as she tries to appeal to an apathetic assortment of characters. Jed is clearly not attracted to Aura herself but rather the resources she offers, while Keith sees her as a tool for nothing more than transient sexual satisfaction.
The problem in most of these scenes is the film’s desire to return to its quirky, light-hearted roots in spite of its dark subject matter. In one scene, Aura engages in a screaming match with her mother, but the delivery comes off as tongue-in-cheek. Probably a stylistic choice, the scene had potential to capture the audience, but it falls flat as soon as one actor starts giggling.
Despite her somewhat bratty antics, Aura’s unsightly appearance and troubled relationships maintain an element of empathy in her character. Unfortunately, Dunham’s acting style is often too lazy to maintain the miserable character she is depicting. What the film ends up with is a half-hearted commentary on the shallow lives of hipster wannabe-artists, a lifestyle that provides no emotional output for the ever-depressed Aura.
Tiny Furniture manages to sustain a light-hearted indie atmosphere through its bright cinematography, subtle humor, and a delightful soundtrack. Unfortunately, the acting is often subpar and the delayed responses in conversations leave you wondering whether this is a professionally-made film or a cheaply-thrown-together student production. The exceptions are Karpovsky’s performance as the indifferent yet amusing Jed and Call’s take on the hipster-douche Keith.
The film has its moments, but uninspired acting and a dull, unmoving plot grounded it from the start. Tiny Furniture’s inability to create substance out of the despondent Aura makes this itsy-bitsy-budget production as sad as the character it follows.