Thursday, December 2, 2010

'Tiny Furniture' star has ample room for growth

At the forefront of the low-fi comedy “Tiny Furniture,” is a new brand of the recession-era female nerd, a “Juno” of the mumblecore.

Oberlin grad Lena Dunham, 24, wrote, directed and starred in her second feature, “Tiny Furniture,” in what is likely a semi-autobiographical profile of the directionless twentysomething.

Aura is 22, a college grad in a self-professed state of delirium since moving back home after four years in Ohio. She has an imperfect, flabby body with an ugly arm tattoo and an endearing neediness. Here is an example of Apatow’s common depiction of man-child syndrome as adapted for the XX chromosome. Dunham the actress has a knack for eliciting surprise chuckles from the audience, not the hearty guffaw but the zinger that’s so faint it strengthens the tone more than anything else.

Aura gets a job as a day hostess, reunites with a rebellious old schoolmate Charlotte (Jamima Kirke) and lets a platonic boyfriend Jed live with her in her mother Siri’s posh TriBeCa loft. Siri, a successful artist, sides with Aura’s bratty teenage sister Nadine (Grace Dunham, Lena’s real-life sibling) in almost every family quarrel.

As a storyteller, Dunham makes a fervent attempt to stay true to the characters and honest in its depiction of relationships. Pop culture allusions do slip into the wry, self-aware dialogue. There’s mention of YouTube and Seinfeld re-runs as well as the Codyesque line, “It’s worth a Google.”

“Tiny Furniture” has more polish than the Hollywoodized indie circle where Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Sam Mendes and dull conversations about Vampire Weekend went to die. Those movies have plots that movie at a glacial pace or search for life answers that never appear.

By the time the audience is content with the pacing in the third act, Aura’s life flies off the handle. She takes a progressively active role in harming each of her relationships. It’s awkward, vaguely disturbing and ultimately redeems itself as offbeat.

Celebrity comparisons are evident, a tribute to its effectiveness perhaps. Alex Karpovsky has a David Krumholtz voice, Grace Dunham has a Scarlett Johansson vibe and Laurie Simmons must derive her character’s coldness from an Anjelica Huston role. And, David Call, who plays the chef, may be a thin Tom Hardy.

In addition to a laudatory New Yorker profile, Dunham has gained residency in Apatown in response to the film. Judd Apatow is producing Dunham’s new series for HBO, tentatively titled “Girls.” Dunham’s potential as a new star transcends through all of this, and in spite of the film’s blemishes, the girl has room for growth.

Rating: 6 out of 10

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