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The Criterion Completist – Tiny Furniture (2010)

May 20, 2012

written by: Lena Durham

produced by: Kylie Martin, Alicia Van Covering and Alice Wang

Directed by: Lena Dunham

rating: unrated

runtime: 98 min. 

U.S. release date: November 12, 2012

DVD/Blu-ray release date: February 14, 2012


In a 2006 short film by video artist and filmmaker Lena Dunham called “Pressure”, Dunham and two of her friends sit on the floor of a library and listen as one of the girls describes the onset of a female orgasm, comparing it to a sneeze.  After they leave, Lena sticks a finger in her nose, wiggles it around, and then sneezes.  The end.  Extend scenes like this into a feature-length film, and you have Dunham’s breakthrough feature, “Tiny Furniture”.

Dunham plays Aura, a recent college graduate who has come back home to New York City to live with her mother Siri (played by Dunham’s real-life mother Laurie Simmons) and her younger sister Nadine (played by Dunham’s real-life sister Grace Dunham).  She deals with all the frustrations of a post-graduate life, trying to find a job, trying to find her own place to live, and generally figure out what to do with her future.



The family dynamic is explored as well, and tensions flare up between Aura and her mother, who is a photographer snapping pictures of miniatures of living rooms (hence the title). The entire movie is basically plotless, and centers around conversations between her and various characters she runs across in her life (ala Woody Allen films), as they talk about sex, jobs, drugs, art and relationships.  Seeing as her “character” is also a video artist, I have to assume that much of this film is autobiographical, and that the candid, confessional tone comes straight from Dunham’s personal experiences of attempting to become an artist after she graduated school.  One scene even has her and her friend watching one of her YouTube movies and reading the degrading comments posted there.  Will her next film have Dunham and her friends reading reviews of “Tiny Furniture”?

This film has gotten tagged with the unglamorous label of “mumblecore”, meaning a very low-budget independent film made with non-professional actors using “naturalistic” dialogue, but I don’t feel that is necessarily accurate in the case of “Tiny Furniture”.



This work is more akin to the films of Miranda July (“Me You and Everyone We Know and “The Future), another female artist and filmmaker who deals with quirky, independent cinema.  The difference unfortunately is that while July has a singular (and often bizarre) artistic style and vision, Dunham seems content to rely on long, staged dialogue sequences, interjected with shocking and occasionally funny bits of humor.  And as far as a film about “what to do after high school”, I prefer Noah Baumbach’s “Kicking and Screaming and even “Ghost World over this.

When introduced to a fellow video artist at a party, a friend describes him to Aura as “kind of famous, in an internet kind of way.”  And that’s how I see this movie, slightly charming, and a solid examination of a mid-20s life crisis, but ultimately light and somewhat frivolous – like she was making this for her friends and family.  It also begs the question of why Criterion decided to release this next to all their other classics, as it is the work of a promising director, but one who has yet to truly find her voice.  Still, I’m eager to see what her next work will be, and the film world is certainly in need of some fresh female creators.

Criterion has loaded up the release of “Tiny Furniture” with a bevy of extras, including “Creative Nonfiction, Dunham’s first feature-length film, four of her short videos, and an interview with filmmaker Nora Ephron.








Matt Streets saw his first film in 1980, when his parents took him to see Robert Altman’s “Popeye” at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove, IL.  Since that rocky start, he has become a lifelong movie fan, and has written film reviews on and off since giving “Medicine Man” two stars for his high school newspaper back in 1992.  He is currently attempting the insane feat of watching every single film in the Criterion Collection as The Criterion Completist.


One Comment leave one →
  1. May 22, 2012 9:44 am

    I pretty much agree with your whole assessment of Tiny Furniture. Girls (Dunham’s HBO series) is much better articulated and funnier.

    Tiny Furniture left me asking “why was this movie made?” Also, I wanted to strangle the character Grace Dunham played.


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