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This mumbling polarizer of a movie arrives on Criterion Blu-ray, and it's true: You'll know whether you love or hate it before it hits the five-minute mark....
Criterion / 100 Minutes / 2010 / Unrated / Street Date: February 14, 2012
Autobiography can - and should - be ugly. We'd all love for our life stories to be quickly and unassumingly turned into Julia Roberts Hollywood fare with swimming pools and movie stars all over the place, but most of the time, we spend energy asking ourselves questions like "How big is this zit going to get?" or "Will anyone notice if I wear a dirty pair of jeans today?" - you know: The ugly stuff.
Tiny Furniture by Lena Durham has ugly all over it. From its opening moments, the film doesn't beat around the bush in presenting Aura (Denham herself) as anything but a woman in flux. Her mother (Laurie Simmons) walks into her bedroom and says it smells 'stale' and that they should wash her sheets the first day she's home, the dude she has her eyes on (Alex Karpovsky) claims she sweats like hog in her sleep - I suppose it's valuable that these people are telling Aura like it is, but they're hard pills to swallow, nevertheless.
The overall arc of Tiny Furniture's mumblecore aims center on Aura's graduation from a fancy Ohio private college and her reimmersion into New York City youth society. Her boyfriend has dumped her, she doesn't know what to do with herself, she gets a job as a hostess at a restaurant that she hates, her mother doesn't understand her, her sister (Grace Dunham) simply doesn't give a shit about anything Aura does or doesn't do - the film is basically about how difficult it is for the poor girl to put one foot in front of the other.
This is Tiny Furniture's undoing. The movie won an Independent Spirit Award and a prize at SXSW, so it must have some kind of traction as far as the arthouse circuit goes, but even with Criterion's lovely presentation on Blu-ray, the movie plays like a whiny, privileged mess. At least the mumblecore musings of Andrew Bujalski's films like Mutual Appreciation and Beeswax have heart to them: Tiny Furniture attempts to portray just how hard it is to be a Tribeca socialite, with an endless supply of money and resources to rest one's head on at the end of another woe-is-me night on the town. I'll say this: Dunham nails the voice of her wealthy, upper-class twentysomething protagonist. The only problem is that this voice often comes across in Tiny Furniture like nails on a chalkboard.