Review: ‘Tiny Furniture’ justifies twentysomething angst

Written and Directed by Lena Dunham

Written and Directed by Lena Dunham

The one thing I cannot accuse Tiny Furniture (2010) of is a lack of sincerity. Although not stated explicitly, the film is most likely based off of writer, director, and lead Lena Dunham’s (Girls) life after graduating. I can’t say that I agree with everything the film presents, but I can say that the controversy portrayed in the film exists with purpose, and I can trust that Lena speaks with experience on the topic of young adult struggles.

Way to go, all people with ages starting with 2 and ending with numbers 0-9!

Aura (Lena Dunham) is a recent college graduate and aspiring filmmaker who moves back home so that she may figure out a career plan. She is both supported and intimidated by her successful artist/photographer of a mother, Siri (Laurie Simmons, Lena’s actual mother) and her accomplished and ambitious high school sister Nadine (Grace Dunham, Lena’s actual sister). As Aura attempts to reconnect with old friends, she meets her old British friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirk, Girls), and a fellow filmmaker Jed (Alex Karpovsky, Girls) who she recognizes from his distinctive Youtube videos. At her job as a day hostess, she meets the sous chef Keith (David Call) who she connects with over drugs. Lena makes and breaks friendships through literature, art, drugs, and sex as she tries to sort what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

This film is a precursor to Lena’s Girls sensation; it hosts many of the amateur actors that will star in her show, but the film also covers a few of the same topics that Girls discusses. Although I have not witnessed the controversial content of Girls’ Holy Grail of Crazy Things Young People Do, I can imagine that this film and the television show have the same feel. What I’m talking about is the feeling that could only come from a creative director who was in the moment of the experiences she depicts; you can be sure that every choice, from the dialogue to the cinematography to the editing, was the choice that most purely highlighted the mindset of a confused and directionless 22-year-old.

I enjoyed the film more for the dialogue than for any other major aspect. Lena is a talented young screenwriter, in my opinion. Although the literary and cultural references peppered throughout the film were ham-handed (to put it modestly), and there was enough character pretention to indulge in seconds, I found the dialogue’s lack of closure to be completely refreshing. Oftentimes, my generation can be fooled into believing and expecting there to be a great sense of conclusion with almost anything, most specifically in films. Rarely does the twenty-something crowd gravitate towards ambiguity; we most appreciate resolution – a sense of clean finality that does not leave us craving.

Contemplate the meaning of the film, and of this amazing GIF.

Tiny Furniture serves a dual purpose: to show us that what we know is extremely influential and not always beneficial, and that what we don’t know is not to be discouragement. The greatest problem that Aura faces throughout the film is that she is trying to figure things out. Although sometimes she feels like a failure for this, it is not so. She will shape her own character through her experiences; the audience is allowed to share in Aura’s mistakes and accomplishments in the journey to finding herself.

Lena Dunham is not an amateur filmmaker, although she is still young. As an aspiring filmmaker myself, this is of great relief to me. This film, in my opinion, is a great resource for young people in that the character of a filmmaker is not masked by the final outcome of the film. Our adolescent experiences and sufferings are not blotches on our otherwise admirable track records; instead, they can be used as a most unadulterated form of artistic expression.

Rating: B-

Official Trailer

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Review: ‘Manic’ in both content and execution

Manic (2001)

Directed by Jordan Melamed
Written by Blayne Weaver, Michael Bacall

It’s hard to believe that most all of the young actors in Manic (2001) are just that – actors. It would so naturally seem like director Jordan Melamed walked into a juvenile psych ward and documented its day-to-day-happenings. Although this low-budget cinema verite hosts many famous actors now, as young people, they seem to understand mental illness hauntingly well.

The film follows Lyle Jensen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he is admitted into a juvenile psych ward for a vicious assault on a fellow member of his baseball team. The ward’s doctor, Dr. David Monroe (Don Cheadle), is determined to help the teenagers in his ward cope with their emotional problems so that they can live in the ‘real world’. A host of behavioral and psychological disorders are introduced in the typical circle-discussion-therapy of movies set in hospital or psychiatric wards. Kenny (Cody Lightning) is Lyle’s roommate, and is a barely-thirteen-year-old child molester. Chad (Michael Bacall) is a manic-depressive who soon becomes Lyle’s best friend in the ward. Tracy (Zooey Deschanel) has low self-esteem and terrible nightmares, and connects emotionally and romantically to Lyle.

For those who have trouble with motion sickness, this movie will not be your cup of tea. Each scene is shot completely with a handheld camera, and a lot of shakiness and lack of focus is the result. The videography, though occasionally headache-inducing, gives a good look into the emotional impulsiveness and chaos of the teenage patients, as well as the uneasy feeling of being in a constant state of psychological upheaval. There is no still moment throughout the whole movie, and it keeps the viewer on their toes, wondering what the impulses of the young patients will be, and also the entailing consequences of those impulses.

Dave Monroe is the only true tie that his patients have to the outside world, and he constantly encourages them, not through bribes or sugary falsehoods, but by using his own emotional turmoil as a grasp to relate to the teenager’s struggles. He asks questions like “What gives your life meaning?” in order to encourage progress, but also as a demand of the viewer: What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment? Why are you alive?

For this movie, I live for the subtle and magnificent performances of most all of the characters. Levitt conveys his feeling almost exclusively through his body and facial expressions; whether the camera captures his whole body or just his eyes, the intense undercurrents of his past struggles surface, almost in an uncomfortable manner. Cheadle, too, was fantastic. Although he is an acting giant in his own right, he provided a solid foundation that allowed his younger counterparts to find their acting niche.

Manic opened up an uneasy Pandora’s box: one of adolescent psychological disorder that, for most films, is used merely as a throwaway explanation for why characters act the way they do. It delves into the history behind each character’s disorder, not in order to make light of their struggles, but so that the viewer and the character can understand them, but so that they may both embrace them.

Melamed accentuates the importance of freedom throughout the film – for the teenagers, freedom is primarily a release from the ward, but it is also the freedom from their emotional distress and seeming societal limitations. For the viewer, Manic is the freedom to experience a raw sense of uninhibited feeling, and to actually be okay with their discomfort. It is the freedom to experience not only acting or film as an art, but pure emotion as its own art.

Rating: B+

Official Trailer