Before she began production of her HBO series Girls, Lena Dunham established her brand of brutal-honest girl-centric comedy in her 2010 feature Tiny Furniture.
Made on a ridiculously low budget of about $65,000, this is an elegant, eccentric, eminently quotable comedy about one girl's incomplete transition to womanhood.
Dunham herself plays Aura, a 22-year-old film student who returns from an Ohio college to the safe abode of her artist mom Siri (played by Dunham's artist mom Laurie Simmons).
But even having a spacious TriBeCa loft as a home base fails to stem Aura's drift. On the rebound from her ex-boyfriend in college who has departed to Colorado ("something about building a shrine to his ancestors out of a dying tree"), Aura tumbles into a job taking reservations at a restaurant. There she falls under the erotic spell of a grungy chef (David Call) with a penchant for Vicodin. ("It's like lying naked on a bearskin rug next to a fire.") Or maybe she has a spark with a freeloading video artist (Alex Karpovsky) whom she allows into her mom's home as a temporary crash pad.
She also falls into the orbit of an old BFF named Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) whose tendency to inappropriate behaviour has apparently gone unabated since childhood. ("I'm so sorry I slapped you. I'm just so overwhelmed.")
I saw the recent Noah Baumbach comedy Frances Ha before I saw this, and while I liked it well enough, I now see the debt that film owes Tiny Furniture. Greta Gerwig's character is similarly adrift in New York trying to figure out what she's going to do with her life. But she now registers as a sexier, more marketable iteration of Dunham's pudgy, charisma-challenged Aura.
Dunham is comparatively fearless about portraying her heroine honestly, a trick she perversely manages by bluntly portraying Aura's dishonesty with her friends, her would-be lovers, her family and herself.
Also, as in Girls, Tiny Furniture's portrayal of love and sex is ruthlessly de-romanticized.
Even the name Aura suggests something unsubstantial, something defined only by its proximity to something else.
And yet Dunham's heroine is perversely likable, even in wheedling, entitled, self-pitying mode. If this film is as autobiographical as it seems, Dunham's honesty in portraying these characters will eventually translate to Aura herself, and she will be substantive at last.