While in Austin, at SXSW, I saw several bigger budget, films that would most likely get (or already have) distribution through one of the major studios. I was also fortunate enough to see a handful of examples of pure independent filmmaking, those without the assuredness of distribution, but were nonetheless putting themselves out for the festival goers to see and judge on their own cinematic merits. While there were some that may not see much future life in theaters, or even on DVD, they were all enjoyable on some level. I didn’t want to walk out of any of the movies I went into.
One of the real treasures that I was able to get into was Lena Dunham’s latest feature: Tiny Furniture. Starring the director herself, as the lead character Aura, alongside her real life sister and mother in their respective roles, Tiny Furniture shows us life after college, when you aren’t exactly sure where or what (or who?) to do next. College, and her recently ended relationship, have left Aura feeling worn out, in search of some comfort, perhaps a fresh start back at home, before she goes onto her next adventure. Aura’s mother and sister are less than enthusiastic about her return, and treat her with thinly veiled hostility. We meet an orbiting cast of friends and romantic interests as she attempts to get a job, and deal with those friends that Aura has left behind, either at home or at school.
The film examines modern twenty-somethings in an honest, intellectual, and non-romanticized manner, that I for one, found refreshing. It treats Aura’s relationship/crush/fling with one of her co-workers in a way that few Hollywood films would have the guts to do with a big budget film. It never presents her actions as reprehensible, in fact it shows the opposite, that while many would like to call our generation immature, or petty, Tiny Furniture shows just how beautiful and honest we can be in our search for love, no matter how short or long a search it ends up being. The characters are all well acted, and while a few choice lines of dialog may be a stretch to find in the real world, I found myself completely immersed in this story.
One fantastic element of the filmmaking that I cannot praise enough is the camera work. The shots are expertly framed, presenting both subtle and obvious uses of furniture and environments, to create an atmosphere full of dividing lines and eerily barren walls. When Aura interacts with her sister, there is often a barrier, both figuratively and literally, between the two. As the two become closer emotionally, the barriers shrink, or expand upon the current mood between them. Along with the framing, the use of color, or lack thereof, is wonderful. The use of white in the apartment, through the walls or the sheets, creates an unease that we all feel when going home, to a place that we have not lived in in months or years, and do not feel quite comfortable in at first. We may be welcomed, but we are still strangers in that situation to some degree, and an awkwardness is inevitable.
Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture is a bold, shining example of the modern independent filmmaker who can capture realistic, intelligent dialog, while also framing the images on the screen beautifully and creatively. It is not gimmicky, or cynical in it’s approach to the modern family dynamic, it conveys absolutely believable scenarios that I could relate with; dealing with work, friends, and family, in a post-college, pre-adulthood environment. It also presents complex romantic relationships without relying on stereotypes, or other boring cinematic tropes that we’ve seen a dozen times in modern independent films. The film won the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at SXSW, and I’m proud to say that I was happy to cast my vote for the film after the screening. Tiny Furniture was also recently acquired by IFC Films, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that this film finds its way onto the desks at Criterion, because it would fit absolutely appropriately alongside such works at David Gordon Green’s George Washington, Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, or even Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums.
You can visit the film’s website here, or follow the director/film news via Twitter. You can also hear me discuss the film on our bonus episode, in which I cover the various films that I saw while in Austin at SXSW.