I met Lena Dunham at the Sarasota Film Festival when she premiered herfilm Tiny Furniture in 2011. We talked about Oberlin College, the Canon 7D—a remarkably, reasonably well-priced DSLR camera with HD video qualities—and we took a picture “for the blog.” I was riding the high of having thoroughly enjoyed a film for which I’d had no expectations. We had heard more hype around The Myth of the American Sleepover than Tiny Furniture, and surprise surprise… it was indeed a myth. The film was lackluster, with pretensions to something it was not—a chic retrospect, a nostalgic Americana style-as-life that did not exist anywhere except in the universe of a Lana del Rey music video. Thankfully, we had decided to go see Dunham’s film afterwards.
Tiny Furniture was raw, yet possessed of a cinematic clarity that I hadn’t seen before. The setting was chic: a swanky Chelsea apartment with slick cabinetry and shiny floors. But on these mirrored surfaces its protagonist appeared before the camera in all her naked honesty, her insecurity and her fumbling. She was, in what has become a tired and tiresome description of Dunham the actress, not your typical Hollywood beauty. Neither confident in her skin nor so self-conscious as to stay in oversized, bulky clothes, the protagonist/Dunham bared almost all in her underwear. And I loved her for it. While I hate to reiterate that old sexist type shtick, it is undeniable that cinema as a visual medium will always deal with issues of aesthetics symptomatic of the society from which they have come—the society that has produced a film and the society that receives it.
This is was what stuck with me from the film—a beautifully ‘normal’ character, a woman trying to fit in her skin and her society—a person beginning. Too often these tales of transition neglect to detail the void: the in-betweens of the BIG EVENTS that you could call ‘real life’, due to some (misguided) preference for Narrative Arc and Action. We watched Aura, an amateur filmmaker, learn to navigate anew in an old space after her return home from college, engage in awkward and degrading sex, laze around her apartment, fight with her spoiled sister, and essentially: fall and pick herself back up again… sort of. The film took life as its subject matter and re-presented it to us as something worth taking note of—worth filming. I personally had seen few movies like this before Tiny Furniture premiered…..