Movie Review: “Tiny Furniture”

Aura is 22, fresh out of college with a degree in film theory and no direction, no sense of how to “get started” on life, career, etc.

She’s just been dumped by her college beau, and she’s moved back to her New York city home with her over-achieving high school sister, Nadine, and her mom. Mom is an artist, a photographer who takes art shots of fancy feet in scenes with tiny furniture.

“Tiny Furniture” is writer-director-star Lena Dunham’s amusing meander through “post graduate delirium,” a relationship comedy about nothing so much as the permanent relationships of family and New Yorker’s relationship with space — and the lack of it.

You want to live in comfort? Turn your loft apartment into a showroom of shelving, a cornucopia of cabinets. That’s the first laugh in Dunham’s film. Aura (Dunham) copes with hyper-organized, hyper-neat Mom (Laurie Simmons) and the rent-free purgatory living with her and her insufferable sister puts her in.

A casting coup. Lena’s sister, Grace, plays Nadine, thus their fights — some of them, anyway — have the sting of real resentment to them.

“Do you really want to start this right now?”

Lena had some notion of making a name for herself on Youtube, the way many young filmmakers have been doing lately. But her bikini dip in her Ohio college fountain just showed the world how bad she looks in a bikini. Dunham deserves bravery points if not style points for shedding some or all of her clothes a few times in this movie.

Aura meets Jed (Alex Karpsovsky) at a party. He’s a REAL Yutube phenom. His “Nietzschean Cowboy” shtick has brought him into town for meetings with HBO and others who want him to do a sitcom.

Aura reconnects with her beautiful, dizzy English-accented pal Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), who pushes her to be “impulsive” with men, ignoring the fact that the rules  for a dish like Charlotte are different for a frump like Aura. Aura thus invites Jed to crash at her place while she contemplates a way to attract him. And she takes a restaurant job, on Charlotte’s suggestion, and tries to learn to show up to work on time so she can figure out a way to attract the good-looking, aloof young chef (David Call).

Jed is a mooch, but a witty one.

“I’m stuck in hell. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?”

Keith, the chef, is also a mooch. He wants prescription pills as his price for spending time with Aura, and away from his live-in girlfriend.

Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture”  is most on the mark in its observations about how people with no money and no place to call their own might hook up. No apartment? No car? No money for a hotel? What’s left?

This is a Soho world of tiny apartments (parties spill out a window and onto a fire escape), with glib young people seeking attention with whatever media is at their disposal — an embarrassing Youtube moment might morph into a gallery exposure, or a sitcom deal.

Much has been made of this modestly funny film’s modest budget.  As the mumblecore movies of the past few years have taught us, you don’t need a lot of cash to make a good looking, smart-mouthed comedy with people who don’t look like movie stars. But Dunham’s version of “Reality Bites,” that collision between college expectations and harsh reality, runs out of gas by about the third time she confesses to her increasingly irate mom, “I’m figuring it out.”

Life won’t be easier until Aura decides out how to begin. But the sneaking suspicion one has is that whatever would-be filmmaker Aura and real filmmaker Dunham’s future, the sizzling Charlotte, given the better lines, the better wardrobe and simply more Hollywood looking, is always going to have an easier time of it.

“If you’re lonely you can just come back to my place and take an Ambien and watch ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock.’”

Cast: Lena Dunham, Grace Dunham, Alex Karpovsky, Larie Simmons, Jemima Kirke

Director: Lena Dunham

Running time:  1 hour 38 minutes

Rating: unrated, with profanity, sexual situations, substance abuse and nudity.

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