Spotlight on Tiny Furniture – Part of the 25 for 25: Film Festival Favorites Program
By Travis Trew, Programming Associate
PFS’ screening of Tiny Furniture comes at an ideal time, providing a perfect opportunity to re-assess the film that put Lena Dunham on the map just as her series Girls rounds out its final season. A festival hit, Tiny Furniture got the attention of future Girls producer Judd Apatow and the execs at HBO, cementing Dunham’s career as television innovator, bestselling memoirist, and lightning rod for blogosphere micro-controversies. But while it’s tempting to think of Tiny Furniture as just a small piece of the Girls universe, the movie deserves to be appreciated as a singular work in its own right.
It’s difficult to remember a film that so forthrightly mines the personal life of its creator. The film stars Dunham and was famously shot in her parents’ apartment, featuring her mother and younger sister as the mother and sister of Dunham’s protagonist, Aura. The filmmaker’s decision to elide her own personality with that of her character is particularly gutsy given that Aura is often portrayed as whiny and self-involved. However, those who dismiss Dunham’s work as purely narcissistic are missing part of the point. Her characters’ self-absorption and immaturity are meant to be part of the joke, even as we find ourselves reluctantly identifying with their foibles. Dunham has often been called “brave” for her openness to nudity, but her bravest attribute is a willingness to portray characters that are realistically, sometimes irredeemably, flawed. She tests the viewer’s patience and puts her own likability on the line to reveal some truth of human nature. It’s also worth noting that the real Lena Dunham has shown herself to be far more ambitious and self-aware than the floundering characters she tends to portray.
The last few years have seen a glut of films and TV series about urban twenty-somethings, so it’s difficult to remember just how fresh Dunham’s take on post-collegiate fumbling felt when Tiny Furniture premiered. Her depiction of urban life felt refreshingly unglamorous, and far removed from the escapist exploits of the women on Sex and the City. Dunham’s New York was a world of crowded parties in dingy apartments, dead-end restaurant jobs, and unsatisfying sexual encounters. Before Broad City, Frances Ha, Obvious Child, and a litany of other movies and TV series,Tiny Furniture examined what it looked and felt like to be overeducated and underemployed in the wake of a recession. Dunham’s vision was probably more myopic than she realized, as many have pointed out. As much as Tiny Furniture touches on universal struggles of young adulthood, it is also a highly specific portrait of a certain type of white, liberal arts-educated young person. But this specificity has its undeniable charm, and in a sense Dunham’s feature can be viewed as a part of the same lineage of social satire as classic examinations of uptown malaise like Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. More than Girls, which jettisoned the autobiographical content but has struggled to live up to the universality of its title, Tiny Furniture wears its specificity on its sleeve, reveling in the weird particularities of Dunham’s artsy, affluent background. While the struggles of finding oneself after college are familiar to anyone who’s watched The Graduate, Tiny Furniture is foremost set apart by Dunham’s spiky, unique, and thrillingly personal point of view.
Tiny Furniture is part of the 25 for 25: Film Festival Favorites program at the PFS Roxy Theater. In honor of the Philadelphia Film Festival’s 25th year, we’ll be bringing back favorite titles from former Festival line-ups. Featuring two retrospective titles per month, this yearlong series provides a perfect opportunity to revisit award-winning classics or discover under-the-radar gems from the last quarter century.
To learn more about the upcoming 25 for 25 titles, please click here.
All 25 For 25 films screen at the PFS Roxy and tickets are FREE as part of PFS On Us! Reserve Tiny Furniture tickets here.