Embarrassment is the Key to Enlightenment: Tiny Furniture and the Composition of Meta-Mumblecore

Paul Schrader, in the DVD extra which is his interview essay about Tiny Furniture, compares Lena Dunham to James Franco.  His hilarious suggestion is that many of Franco's contemporaries don't like him because he is too talented in too many areas.  Like a 'frumpy, NY Jewish girl of privilege' version of Franco, Schrader suggests that our natural reaction to Lena Dunham is "why the fuck her?"  Paul Schrader says, "she spurs envy."

Totally.  We are annoyed by Lena because she's so successful.  We are annoyed by her because she was born into that privileged, New York City cultural elite, a child of successful New York artists who has become even more famous than her parents and at a way younger age.  And then there's that creepy, apocryphal line in the film when Dunham's actual mother, the artist Laurie Simmons, playing the main character's successful artist mother, says to Aura: "oh, you will be more successful than I am, really, believe me."

As Schrader so brilliantly suggests in his interview on the DVD extra,  Tiny Furniture  is appropriating the mumblecore genre.  Our contemporary obsession with the minutia of self, write DIY as videos in which "me and my friends are gonna make a movie about me and my friends talking about me and my friends."   Schrader suggests that Tiny Furniture is too representative of its genre and that this "too representative-ness" is what creates the hostility.   He suggests that this movie about a young woman who only worries about herself and takes her clothes off, makes us want to slap her.  Schrader assures us that he believes the film to be tightly scripted and well-written, which uses good storytelling.  But then he claims that it's good filmmaking pretending to be "amateur" and that's where we differ.   I don't think Tiny Furniture is pretending to be amateur at all. I think it's aspiring to be photographic and cinematic and metaphoric in the most foreign filmy type of way.  The only false or ironic note I detect is when Aura claims she hates foreign films.

Which brings to me to the question: what is Tiny Furniture about?  Is it the failure of composition to protect us from embarrassment?  Is it the beauty of, the preciousness of the minute, the intimate, the horror/the necessity of the 'real,' the elusiveness of it. It is anamorphic, expressively photographic, landscapes of embarrassment, striving, jealousy.  The fear of loss, of losing what you maybe don't yet even have.  Dunham frames the innate ugliness, the selfish entitlement of the world in which she is a happy yet reluctant member.  She questions what passes for success in the New York City these days, she questions the values of her world even as she expresses them in a glossy, shallow depth of field lushness.  Schrader says that Dunham's emphasis on composition is a kind of artistic proof of her work, evidence of her structuring and originality.

Finally, Schrader asks if the film is a representative of Future Film or of a dying genre.  "In many ways, (it is) an old fashioned film wearing these new raggedy clothes."  I dunno, Paul, those clothes don't look so raggedy.  5D digital filmmaking is looking mighty fine in that indie NY Tribeca loft.  If the film is representative of anything, I would say, it's the enduring power of French film, of European cinema, as much as Woody Allen, to inspire a young American woman of today to be her powerful, self-deprecating self.

Ultimately, I think Tiny Furniture is about getting all the mistakes out of the way.  It is about being a loser, and what is lost is the kind of virginity that New York demands its citizens lose, even today, after all these gentrifying years later, all these years of wealth and power and slickness later, you still have to get fucked in order to live here.  And, Dunham's character endures through all humiliation in order to finally get her tickling time in bed with her mother.

Lena on Nora Ephron:

I love that Lena loves Nora.  Nora Ephron, married to Carl Bernstein, wrote the novel and then directed her own film version of their bitter breakup and divorce.  Nora and Lena talk about Woody Allen and the ways he influenced both of them in the DVD extras of the Criterion Collection's "Tiny Furniture."