Eurgh. That is my overwhelming reaction to Lisa Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, a directorial debut that I can acknowledge does a lot of things right, but I still found absolutely unbearable to watch. A story about a directionless college graduate who moves back in with her mother and sister, it’s a tale based, one suspects, on Dunham own life experience, even to the point that she casts herself and her family members in the leading roles. That being said, one hopes for the sake of the people that know them that she and her relatives aren’t actually like this in real life, because Tiny Furniture is populated by characters so obnoxious and selfish that you want to do them, or, barring that, yourself, some very serious bodily harm.
Dunham makes lots of good choices. Casting her real life mother and sister across from herself playing the lead, the natural quality to their interactions more than makes up for their occasionally unpolished performances. It’s also refreshing to see a – how shall I put this – less photogenic woman in a starring role; Dunham’s characters schlubbiness would have seemed a lot less realistic were the part played by an Ellen Page or Zooey Deschenal (to name some indie darlings of the moment). Her direction possesses somewhat less personality – I’m not convinced the camera moved once in the entire film, which demonstrates not so much a lack of confidence as it does a lack of creativity. Or I don’t know, maybe panning is just too mainstream.
Tiny Furniture’s script has received an enormous amount praise. And I suppose it is impressive, in the sense that people this grindingly annoying and unduly self-impressed do exist. As a portrayal of over-privileged hipsters who think they are smarter, funnier and more important than they really are, Dunham is dead on the money. But it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s accurate or not, because listening to these characters talk – and that’s literally all they ever do – is one of the most agonising experiences I’ve had all year. I don’t want to spend five minutes in real life with people this irritating, so why on earth would I want to watch a movie that – if not exactly celebrating – at least asks me to sympathise with them?
By the way, yes, I do understand that Dunham is sending these individuals up. But I hate them so much – their toneless cynicism, their pointless literary references and their brazenly unimportant first world problems – that I’m incapable of finding then funny in even an ironic way. Get a job. Stop complaining. And stop wasting my time.
Tom Clift is a web-based film journalist from Melbourne, Australia. Visit his website here: http://reviewsbytom.blogspot.com.
You can read all of Tom Clift’s coverage of MIFF 2011 here.