I admit to being part of the group of people who, in some sense, hate-watch Girls. I don’t completely hate the show – if I did, I’d simply stop watching it – but I do find myself exasperated with the titular girls’ enormous senses of entitlement and braggadocio. It’s a bit of a train wreck, but it’s one that I clearly enjoy watching. Tiny Furniture (2010) is Lena Dunham’s first movie and something of a proto-Girls. Be forewarned – if you hate the show for real, you won’t find much to turn your opinion on Dunham here.
Written, directed by, and starring Dunham, Tiny Furniture follows Aura as she moves back into her successful artist mother’s TriBeCa loft after graduation. With no job, no direction, and no boyfriend, Aura’s only plan is to save money until her friend Frankie can move to New York so they can be roommates. Though Aura soon finds a job as a day hostess for a restaurant, her self-esteem takes a quick shot when her younger sister Nadine announces that she has won a prestigious poetry prize. After Nadine and their mother (played by Dunham’s real mother and sister) take off for a week to tour colleges, Aura invites Jed (Alex Karpovsky, Ray on Girls), a similarly struggling filmmaker, to stay with her in the loft. Much weirdness ensues, as Jed is altogether too quick to get comfortable in his temporary home, but Aura clearly enjoys feeling as though she’s needed by someone.
Aura is, likewise, upstaged by her friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke, Jessa on Girls) who is a recovering drug addict. Charlotte helped Aura get the day hostess job and is quite familiar with the hipster chef who Aura has her eye on. Aura, much like her later incarnation Hannah Horvath, is all too eager to show her spontaneity and willingness to be used and there’s a very uncomfortable sex scene that makes not just the audience, but Aura too, question the decisions she’s made.
There is something admirable in the rawness Dunham showcases both here and on Girls. Aura and Hannah are, perhaps, so unlikable because they connect with something we dislike about ourselves. They are the id set free, crashing about until they realize that saying whatever thought first pops into your mind and acting so as to manipulate others’ emotions doesn’t work the way you thought it would. They are, essentially, the petulant child who never matures. There is value in creating a character who is so painful to watch, for whom supreme confidence and utter helplessness are not mutually exclusive. Whether that’s actually enjoyable to watch, well…you’ll have to decide that on your own.