Tiny Furniture & The Plight of the Privileged

Lena Dunham’s plodding autobiographical feature Tiny Furniture ends with the following scene: Mother and daughter are lying in bed together, and Aura (played by Ms. Dunham) says something like, “I just want to be as successful as you are, Mom.” Ah yes, the familiar plight of the children of the famous. Only in this case, Lena’s desire to be as successful as her mother, is rather rhetorical. With an award-winning feature film, a write-up in the New Yorker and a HBO commission for a television show written, directed, produced and starring her, what more success can a 24-year-old want?

Dunham’s Tiny Furniture and quick trip to the coveted heights of the entertainment industry has simply confirmed an annoying truth:  The famous and powerful promote the famous and powerful. If you can get in (or are born in) this network, you can make a film about yourself even if you are overweight, not very attractive or charismatic and people will watch it, and might even make you a BIG DEAL.

Tiny Furniture, for those of you who didn’t read Rebecca Mead’s New Yorker piece, is Lena Dunham’s highly autobiographical film about Aura, a spoiled, confused twenty-two year old girl, pursuing love and a sense of self in New York, post graduation.

Though Tiny Furniture won the narrative feature prize at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, and Ms. Dunham has been lauded as a comic similar in sensibility to Larry David, she is neither remarkably funny, nor particularly interesting to watch. Lena’s humor comes from a sort of brutal honesty, and the lack of any pretense, sarcasm or charm. She gives an unaffected performance, that makes the more emotional moments, including her decision to bail on living with her best friend from Oberlin, refusal to allow her sister to have friends over, and her screaming tirade at her mother and sister, seem random and unfounded.  By far the most fascinating aspect of Lena’s performance is her lack of self-consciousness and willingness to expose herself in the public eye.

Much like Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga before her, Lena Dunham has made herself a meal for the eyes of millions. Only, she isn’t being worshiped. Both male love interests in the film exploit and reject her body and privilege for their own benefit. Ms. Dunham also incorporates the video she made of herself in a bikini at Oberlin entitled “The Fountain” and YouTube audiences’ commentary on her body as fat and unappealing. In response to all of this negative attention, Aura’s new “best” friend in the film, played by a fiercely entertaining Jemima Kirk, says,  “any exposure is good exposure.”  Aura makes no response. She lets the question hang. Since her appearance on YouTube in “The Fountain,” Dunham has both gained and lost a part of herself. She has been written up in the New Yorker and insulted in public. Do they balance each other out? What is more valuable – honor or fame?

Oddly enough, and to her tribute, Dunham has married shame and honor to create a compelling celebrity. By having no shame, (and wealthy, connected parents) she has attained recognition and esteem. To many, her bravery and egotism is compelling. Dunham flies in the face of all the thin, beautiful Angelina Jolies and Natalie Portmans dominating the silver screen. Her film is an examination of exposure, fame, and celebrity – and what it takes to be loved on a personal and public level.

At the beginning of the movie when Aura says to her mother, “I just want to be as successful as you are,” she admits her private agenda behind making this movie, and the thesis of the film. It is a reality TV-show-turned-film about the act of exposing oneself, and the ability to make oneself, regardless of charisma or personal merits, fascinating to the outside world.

Rosie duPont BC ’10
ArtsLink Associate

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