Introduction to the film
A 2010 independent comedy drama movie made in the US, Tiny Furniture was directed, written and starred by the same person – Lena Dunham. Tiny Furniture premiered at the prestigious SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, US where it was awarded the Best Narrative Feature. It was also screened at other major festivals including the Maryland Film Festival and had its theatrical release on November 12, 2010 in the US.
Artists Laurie Simmons, Dunham’s real-life mother plays the role of all Aura’s (Lena Dunham’s) mother in the film, while her on-screen sister’s role is played by Grace, Lena’s sibling in real life. Alex Karpovsky and Jemima Kirke also make appearances in the film. They also play a role in Girls, Lena Dunham’s popular television series.
The soundtrack of the movie had numbers by Domino, Teddy Blanks (of The Gaskets), Everyone’s Invited Band, Sonia’s Party and Rebecca Schiffman.
The plot of the film
After being dumped by her boyfriend immediately after her university graduation, Aura, played by Lena Dunham, returns back to her mother’s place in Tribeca, lower Manhattan in New York City, for the summer. She wants to save money until the time Frankie, her friend completes her college degree from Oberlin and can move in along with her to New York City, so that they can live together as roommates.
Siri, Aura’s mom is a popular and successful photographer, well known for her creatively clicked pictures using Tiny Furniture. Siri is assisted by Candice, her full-time assistant and Nadine, Aura’s younger teenage sister. Siri is very supportive of her daughter’s decision to return home initially, however, Nadine has a more condescending attitude towards her.
On one occasion, after Aura has moved back into her old room, her sister Nadine commands her to replace a lightbulb. While looking around for the lightbulb, Aura stumbles upon her mom’s journals from the time when she was of the same age as her. Aura takes the liberty of going through her mother’s journals.
Shortly after returning home, Aura goes out to a party where she gets acquainted with a mildly successful filmmaker called Jed, who regularly posts his work on the YouTube. She refreshes her childhood memories as well upon meeting her longtime friend Charlotte (played by Jemima Kirke). Charlotte is struggling with drug addiction and is trying to kick the habit for good. Both she and Aura get back to Charlotte’s apartment at night and smoke pot together. She proves a great help for Aura and helps the latter get an $ 11 per hour gig (without any tips) involving taking reservations for some restaurant. The news of her bagging the job so quickly after returning back to Tribeca overshadows the fact that her sister Nadine wins a popular poetry prize meant for high school students. Aura feels anxious from time to time as she is constantly compared to her younger sister, and isn’t really appreciative of the close bond that her sister shares with her mom.
Feeling depressed about everything, Aura starts spending more and more time with Jed who’s currently couch-surfing as his agent is in the process of getting him a television deal. She also actively flirts with Keith (played by David Call), the junior chef of the restaurant that she takes reservations for.
Her sister and mother having left the town for a week, to look for colleges, for Nadine, Aura calls Jed over to stay with her. Both find out about the death of Aura’s pet hamster called Gilda. They store Gilda in a plastic bag, inside the freezer, until Aura can give her a proper burial. Aura and Jed wreak havoc with the apartment and drink almost all of Siri’s neatly stacked wine. They eat all of the frozen dinners.
Siri, upon her return, confronts Aura about the happenings. Aura lies about everything and starts throwing a tantrum. Despite all the mishaps, Aura sums up the courage to ask her mother to allow Jed to extend his visit, telling her that he would make do with an inflatable mattress inside her room. However, she eventually has to kick Jed out as he proves to be a huge annoyance for Siri because his entitled attitude.
On the other end, Aura’s flirtations with Keith hit a roadblock after she finds out that he already has a girlfriend, and the only reason he had shown interest in her was because she could obtain prescription pills for him through Charlotte. On one occasion when Keith stands Aura up after they make plans to smoke pot together, Aura leaves her restaurant job on impulse. The same very night, Nadine is hosting a party for her friends in the loft as Siri is out for the night.
Aura gets pretty upset, particularly because of her sister’s drunk high school friends at the party, and calls Charlotte to tackle the situation. However, Charlotte too becomes a part of the party and starts having a good time. Nadine eventually takes Aura head on and tells her about her immaturity, even yelling at her and asking her to grow up. Siri upon her return comes across the frozen hamster inside the freezer the next morning, which Aura promptly gets rid of. Aura also calls up a bewildered Frankie and tells her that she can no longer move in with the latter, giving an excuse that her mom wants to be more at home.
Not sure of what good use to put her filmmaking degree to, Aura gets lucky when Charlotte requests one of her curator friends to exhibit Aura’s college video in his gallery. Charlotte gets thoroughly annoyed at the exhibition when Frankie is seen discussing living arrangements with Aura. She does her best to encourage Aura to let go of Frankie and spend more time with Keith, who also shows up at the exhibit. Encouraged by Charlotte, Aura ditches Frankie and goes along with Keith. They both smoke marijuana together in the street. Pumped up by her friend’s advice to behave more spontaneously, Aura decides to move in with Keith, who regardless of still having a girlfriend, responds to the proposal with passion. With Keith continuing to live with his girlfriend, and the fact that Aura can’t bring him home to her mom’s apartment, both of them crawl inside a metal pipe at a construction site, where they have some passionate unprotected sex.
After her return home, Aura gets into a fight with her mom, however apologizes later. She climbs into bed with her mother and updates her about the wonderful evening she had with Keith. Aura also confesses about reading her mom’s diaries, but her mom gives a calm response that she isn’t upset over that. Aura makes good use of the opportunity to learn more about her mother, and talks to her about her feelings when she was Aura’s age.
Our take on Tiny Furniture
There comes a strange phase during the time when you have left the school/college and when you start working actively. You become an idle painted ship sailing on a painted ocean. There is plenty of restlessness. There is no way that you can return back to your childhood, and the future looks doesn’t look very certain either.
The reason why many people feel a lot of love for Tiny Furniture is because it’s a pretty well-crafted film. Considering that it’s Lena’s first movie, it shows tremendous command over purpose and style. Dunham is thoroughly aware of what she wants and how she should go about it. And she succeeds in every single frame. The character Aura plays may not be very seductive or mercurial or charismatic or glowing or anything like those strong advertising adjectives, but she seriously believes in her right to be happy.
There is a particular scene in the movie where sex is enacted in a way that it doesn’t look like good sex. Rather, it brings to mind the popular Woody Allen’s statement that even the ‘worst sex he has had wasn’t that bad’. Two people make out in a rather unexpected manner. What more, it happens at one of the most depressing places. To add to the misery, it looks so desperately dutiful. It’s about two people getting seized with the idea and urgent need of orgasming together, and succeed at it, which exhausts the subject. That particular scene and whatever leads up to that, defines Aura as well as her partner, telling us what they’ll always settle for – happiness! Many times that’s far better than nothing.
You get to see Aura’s life unfolding without any plot, because actually there’s none! On some occasions you might feel that the movie is deliberately motionless, despite having deep stirring currents. On the whole it’s a must watch film for anyone who appreciates good cinema!