Perhaps one should congratulate Lena Dunham for the honesty of her first feature, the semi-autobiographical “Tiny Furniture.” Her characters seem natural, neither overly articulate literary types nor amazing physical specimens, and they’re certainly imperfect as human beings. But they’re not terribly interesting or likable either, and that proves a considerable drawback.
Dunham, who wrote and directed the movie, also stars as Aura, a recent Oberlin graduate who returns to her family’s Tribeca apartment with a degree in film studies. A pudgy, rather drab girl who’s posted videos featuring herself on the Internet, Aura is welcomed, though without great overt warmth, by her photographer mother (Laurie Simmons, Dunham’s real mom), and treated with alternating affection and dismissal by her snarky, overachieving sister (Grace Dunham, her actual sibling).
The picture basically follows Aura’s clumsy attempts to deal with the real world after four years (or perhaps more) in the Ivory Tower. Beyond dealing with her mother, who finds her daughter’s “sense of entitlement” infuriating even as she opens up to her, and her sister, whose smart mouth can be cutting, Aura takes a thoroughly unsatisfying job at a restaurant, where she meets a laid-back cook (David Call) she falls for, though he’s got a live-in girlfriend. And she reconnects with a classmate (Jemima Kirke), a pseudo-sophisticated party girl and art gallery honcho, while distancing herself from the college friend (Merritt Wever) she’s been planning to move into an apartment with.
But most importantly, she bumps into Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a visiting “video artist” from out-of-town whom she impulsively invites to crash with her while her mother and sister are away. The guy’s a shrewd poseur who takes advantage of her desperate need for affection until her mother returns and insists he go elsewhere.
There’s a meandering quality to the movie that adeptly reflects the uncertainty of recent grads in trying to cope with life after college, but doesn’t offer much in the way of enlightenment or amusement. The script has a degree of homely integrity, but naturalness by itself isn’t enough, especially when it extends to performances by the Dunhams and Simmons that are drearily amateurish. On the other hand, Kirke comes across so strong that whenever she appears she throws things out of balance. Only Karpovsky, as the smug Jed, lends the picture much sense of satirical fun. And of course it’s technically nondescript.
“Tiny Furniture” might find a receptive audience in recent graduates who can sympathize with Aura’s plight, trying to extricate herself from her college ties while simultaneously feeling the loss of them. The rest of us will be forgiven for finding the movie a sad little self-indulgence.