Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture won the Narrative Feature Film Award at South by Southwest, landing the 23-year-old Dunham an HBO pilot executive-produced by Judd Apatow and all the attendant buzz you'd expect. The movie opened at Cinema 21 over the weekend—Dunham plays Aura, a recent college graduate who's returned to New York City after four years in Ohio. Stuck in a pretty typical post-grad funk, Aura moves back in with her mother and younger sister, finds a crappy job, and starts looking for boys to fuck, all while struggling to figure out what she really wants to do with her life, now that the relationships and activities of the previous four years have abruptly ceased to matter.
Aura's an aspiring filmmaker, but Dunham discreetly lets us know that her real interest is in being the star of her own life. “I saw that your dyslexic stripper video got like 400 hits,” a friend says encouragingly; later, Aura's younger sister accuses her of only making videos as a way of attracting male attention. That there's truth to her sister's observation is clear from Aura's pursuit of two fairly terrible men: first a YouTube celebrity ("The Nietzschean Cowboy") and then a pill-popping chef at the restaurant where she works as a hostess. It's hard to believe that Aura really likes these guys, but she sure does want them to like her. Bracingly, neither particularly does. (Dunham is unapologetically average looking—she cleans up nice, but she also schlubs around in her underwear a lot, defiantly unsexy.)
The film's depiction of post-Oberlin malaise is going to irritate some people—with an unemployment rate of nearly 10%, a rich girl's inability to find creative fulfillment through YouTube art offers a certain "Let them eat cake" provocation. But Dunham is smart enough to know that, and navigates a delicate line with Aura: She's a little ridiculous, and she makes terrible decisions, and her problems are rich-kid problems, but she's also wry and funny and well-intentioned—even when I didn't relate to her (and I often did), I rooted for her. And while the particulars of Aura's situation may not resonate, the generalities probably will—all the metrics Aura once used to define herself have suddenly ceased to matter. Men don't want to fuck her, she can't find fulfilling work, and even her mom doesn't want her around. In many ways, she's starting from scratch, defining herself entirely on her own terms. Mumblecore may be over-preoccupied with self-definition in general, but Dunham is 23. As long as she doesn't get stuck there, she'll be fine.