Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Self-obsessed, entitled, YouTube dufuses love, live, and try to find themselves in NYC while occasionally screwing each other in large pipes on construction sites and casually talking about tentacle rape porn.

Don’t worry, the cephalopod-on-girl action isn’t close to the most distasteful kink bantered about onscreen here, so there’s still plenty for you to discover while watching Tiny Furniture. Shot on a modest budget using a digital SLR and casting her family as actors, the film's writer/director/star achieves a raw, open and honest feeling of verisimilitude.  So far so good.

Lena Dunham definitely knows how to put a film together that makes you feel the pain of the characters in a picture one is encouraged to assume is at least partially autobiographical.

Dunham plays a young woman returning home to NYC after earning a liberal arts with a focus on film who drifts aimlessly through a few weeks of her life back in mom’s apartment. The “encourages” part is that the home in question belongs to her real life mother, who plays her onscreen mom, alongside her younger sister, cast as such.

That the mom in the film is a successful artist with a specialty photographing dollhouse furniture, and the real life mother is largely the same, makes you wonder where storytelling begins and truth ends.

The family Aura returns to isn’t exactly what one would call "warmly welcoming". Artist Mom seems ambivalent at best to her presence. Sis is a high achiever who’d come across as highly competitive, if only Aura achieved anything of corresponding caliber.

The sum total of Aura’s achievements (if you ask her) are an unflattering YouTube video with 357 hits and a film theory degree from a midwest college.  She appears to want love and acceptance, but has a hard time differentiating between those who provide that and those that are opportunistic creeps (of both genders).

Tiny Furniture follows Aura during this awkward period where she tries (or often doesn’t really try) to figure out what to do next, how to interact with men, and which of her friends are really that. In other words: she’s mixed up. Whether you find her and her vapid friends worth watching or not will likely vary quite a bit based on your interest in this post-college pre-adulthood void, tolerance for watching people learn through poor choices, and your taste for listening to people talk through it in true indy style.  

Make no mistake, this is a well-made film.  It felt natural, there are some funny moments, and it's not hard to imagine that you're truly a fly on a wall following a subset of NYC's just graduated from college, relatively well off and sponging off parents community. Aura's issues with men – at least her preternaturally poor choosing of them – seems realistic too, in the context of her character.  

The larger question for me was why would I want to eavesdrop on their conversations? There probably are emotional lessons to learn, but my apparently superficial nature left me uninterested in really caring that much. Or maybe I’ve just seen too many similar confused people onscreen over the years.

On some level it reminded me of the lost directionless angst of Momma's Man with the dialog of a Noah Baumbach film. Which can come across as high praise – but to me the people mostly felt so vacuous that it was hard to not just feel like a disembodied voyeuristic entity watching an alien culture as opposed to being somewhere close to their world.

This film has been highly praised by many. In a filmmaking sense, especially given limited resources, praise is due. But what started out strong for me left me less than engaged by the end. Obviously, your mileage may vary (and I may just be getting old). That said, I’ll certainly be very interested to see Denham’s next effort.