"Tiny Furniture," big promise

  • Article by: CLAUDE PECK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 27, 2011 - 2:50 PM

Lena Dunham wrote, directed and stars in her deadpan-hilarious first feature, which also features her real mom and sister.

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Laurie Simmons and Lena Dunham in "Tiny Furniture"

Lena Dunham, lumpy of figure, greasy of hair and deadpan of affect, so does not resemble an It Girl. But the twentysomething filmmaker, who just inked a deal for an HBO series, deserves everything she gets because she's smart, funny, talented and tuned into the gestalt of her Web-addled, YouTube-influenced, direction-in-life-seeking age group.

"Tiny Furniture," a hit at the South by Southwest film fest last year and Dunham's first full-lengther, is scarily good. She makes Woody Allen look ham-handed even as she mines some of his territory, including New Yorkers, pretension, sex, neurotic tendencies, family relations and cultural markings. Unlike Allen, Dunham's punch lines ("I saw that your dyslexic-stripper video got like 400 hits!") arrive with a wince of recognition, not a rim shot.

Even if one didn't know the movie was shot with a digital SLR camera, the scaled-back, tableaux-heavy look of it would be impressive.

Aura (Dunham) returns home after four years at college in Ohio, dumps her luggage on the floor of her artist-mother's sleek white Tribeca loft and flops into her favorite position, face-down on the nearest bed or sofa.

Aura kinda wants a boyfriend, but just barely. She kinda needs a job, but the one she gets, at a bistro called Clandestino, is boring. She kinda needs to grow up, but she remains attached to both the love and the mind games that characterize her relationship with her mother (played by her real mom, Laurie Simmons, who is wonderful). She kinda needs someone to look up to her, but her high-school-aged sister (played by her real sister, Grace) is brighter, quicker and sharper-tongued than Aura.

So Aura plods through her days and nights, greeting each fresh humiliation with good grace and resignation. She bonds with an old gal pal, Charlotte (the blazingly ditzy Jemima Kirke), and the two share some amusing adventures with boys, art galleries, fashion and drinking.

Just when you think "Tiny Furniture" is of the nothing-happens school of indie-filmdom, something more dramatic happens. Just when you think the slacker lassitude is overdone, there's a lemony streak of touching sincerity, mostly at the somewhat Raymond Carveresque ending. What never runs low are the deadpan laughs offered by the script, Dunham and her mostly non-actor actors.

If she can get her butt out of bed, the kid has a bright future.

Claude Peck • 612-673-7977

  • TINY FURNITURE

    ★★★ 1/2 out of four stars

    Unrated but includes nudity, sex, adult language, drugs, smoking.

    Theater: St. Anthony Main.

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