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Eugene Weekly : Movies : 1.20.11

Hard Times for Aura

A love life can be humiliating

by molly templeton

TINY FURNITURE: Written and directed by Lena Dunham. Cinematography, Jody Lee Lipes. Editor, Lance Edmands. Music, Teddy Blanks. Starring Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Alex Karpovsky, David Call, Merritt Wever and Jemima Kirke. IFC Films, 2010. 98 minutes. Unrated.

Twenty-four-year-old Lena Dunhams second feature, Tiny Furniture, is as confident and sure a film as its subject, Aura (played by Dunham), is a mess of a girl. In the depths of a post-collegiate slump ã her boyfriends moved home to find himself, or something, and Auras not sure she really cares about what she studied in school ãAura arrives home at the pristine Tribeca loft thats home to her mother, Siri, a successful artist, and her sister, Nadine, a studious, precocious pain in the ass. Siri (Laurie Simmons) blithely tells Aura to look for things "in the white cabinet,” oblivious to the fact that the two-story loft has entire walls of said cabinets; Nadine (Grace Dunham) refers to Auras life as like "the epilogue to Felicity.”

The loft isnt exactly a warm and nurturing environment. But its home, and its a home of privilege and comfort, where Auras even more privileged former best friend, Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), is just blocks away, languidly doing nothing for hours at a time. Auras New York ãa tidy place where people who dont have money are well out of sight (Aura and a friend do consider, jokingly, what people without money do with their days) ã is full of ways to do nothing. Aura gets a hostessing job, not because its the right job, but because its nearby and Charlotte tells her about it. She meets a couple of guys, one a pretentious YouTube phenom, the other a snotty chef, neither all that appealing, but both right there. Aura finds comfort and conflict with her mother, whose old journals fascinate Aura: Moms life, when she was in her early 20s, looks so interesting. Siri, who views Aura with a sort of kind impatience, says she never thinks about her 20s, but Aura, smack in the middle of hers, can think of nothing else.

Aura, in short, is lazy and directionless, spoiled and suffering a particular kind of malaise: Shes smart, educated and wealthy, and she has no idea what to do with herself. But Tiny Furniture doesnt wallow in this, even as Aura does. Dunham wrote her script in a week, shot her film in her familys home and cast her mother and sister as Auras mother and sister. "Starring in your own movie about a narcissistic girl is a careful high-wire act of exhibitionism and self-parody,” the films press notes point out, accurately.

Dunham pulls this off in large part because she never lets Aura, or herself, off the hook: There isnt a shred of vanity in her performance, or in her willingness to poke at her characters self-absorption without either indulging or mocking it. You dont have to like Aura ã who is at times thoroughly, petulantly unlikable ã to recognize that Dunham has perfectly captured the flailing of a young woman who doesnt know who she is or who she wants to be. Shes utterly convincing as Aura, yet you cant conflate the two: Aura cant step outside herself or create something this sharp. Maybe eventually, but not yet. Satirical and self-aware, Tiny Furniture hits just the right notes; it doesnt ask us to love or hate Aura, and it avoids a tidy resolution with its strange question mark of an ending.

Tiny Furniture opens Friday, Jan. 21, at the Bijou.