A close friend of mine is always trying to introduce me to stuff on YouTube that he claims is “funny.” More times than naught, I wind up hating whatever it is he has felt compelled to torment me with — and it’s easy to see why some of these things are on YouTube, as opposed to television or any sort of “real” media: they’re completely mindless, thoroughly annoying, and utterly lacking in any sort of value — comical or otherwise — whatsoever (mind you, this is coming from the same guy who has a video of himself singing “Thunderball” at a karaoke bar on the famous post-your-own-damn-video website!).
But not all of YouTube’s auteurs (if I dare call them that) are without merit. Lena Dunham — who is often compared to a young Woody Allen — attracted a great deal of praise with her own comedic YouTube videos, which lead to a career in filmmaking. Tiny Furniture, a feature-length 2010 film, finds the young comedienne writing and directing herself in a tale of a rather neurotic and self-absorbed college grad who returns to Tribeca, Manhattan to live with her mother and younger sister (played respectively by Lena’s own real-life mum and sis, Laurie Simmons and Grace Dunham).
While Tiny Furniture is basically part of the mumblecore genre (wherein people just sit around talking about their lives), the fact that it relies on an actual script (such films generally do not rely on such novelties) sets it apart from its brethren. For my money, however, that’s about all that sets it apart: Tiny Furniture is a ho-hum film that centers on an obnoxious protagonist with no life and the many other unlikable people around her who are all too wrapped up in their own useless lives to pay any notice to hers. It’s a lot like going through high school again, really.
Basically, Tiny Furniture is just another “young person trying to find their way in life” kind of film, only with an abundance of dry comedy that hurts because it’s truthful. Fans of other drab, strangely-successful hits like Napoleon Dynamite will probably want to see it — and may feel compelled to add it to their collection — while those of us who often find ourselves wondering “So, what was supposed to be funny about that YouTube video?” and/or prefer our Woody Allen-esque movies to be the real deal (well anything from Crimes and Misdemeanors back, that is) will more than likely be disappointed with this one.
As to why the folks at The Criterion Collection put this one on their schedule is beyond me, since I can think of better films to release (although they’re releasing Anatomy of a Murder this same month, so I‘ll give ‘em that). Nevertheless, Tiny Furniture has joined their library at #597, and the audio/video aspects of this 2010 SXSW award winner are commendable. Special features include a conversation between Nora Ephron and Lena Dunham, an interview with filmmaker Paul Schrader (who discusses why the movie is good, just in case you’re like me), four short films by Ms. Dunham, a trailer, and an essay by critic Phillip Lopate that’s included in the case.
In short: rent it first.