I saw Lena Dunham's debut feature Tiny Furniture back in late August, thought slightly well of it with some qualifications, and wrote about it here. Since that time I don't think half a week has gone by without my getting an invitation to yet another screening of the film. Some of these are special screenings, which see Furniture writer-director-star Lena Dunham and some of her colleagues hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, or MOMA, or Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco, or some fucking person/thing or other. Very festive, and I don't go; because I've seen the film already.But the invites keep on coming, to the extent that I'm beginning to doubt whether IFC actually intends to really open the film theatrically. An interesting marketing strategy, for sure, if that's the case, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
In any event, I suppose IFC's persistence with the screenings is paying off in some respects, as it's succeeded in attracting at least one internet film writer who normally expresses little to no interest in Films Made By And About Young Jobless Urban Americans. I speak, of course, of my colleague and sometimes traveling companion Jeffrey Wells, who saw it the other night and who, in the fashion of Mikey in those Life commercials, liked it. "Dunham is a fine, real-deal actress. I liked her right away, and believed her acting to the extent that it didn't feel like 'acting'," Wells writes. And it's funny, he and I have never discussed his feelings concerning James Mason and...oh, never mind. Anyway. In between a sentence that would make James Agee, Manny Farber, and Otis Ferguson proud were they alive to read it (that would be "The undertones felt a bit lezzy sometimes, but not in a pronounced way") and the obligatory rumination on Dunham's looks (she used to be a chunkster, but she's taken off a little weight, yeah, yeah; down, boy), Wells delivers his verdict on the film's main male characters: "The two guys are 'nice' and interesting to talk to, but they're both kind of into themselves and really not much of a catch." To which I reacted (once I wrapped my head around the weird case issues in that sentence), "What the—?"
Interesting to learn what Jeff considers nice, or "nice," because as far as I was concerned the male love interests of the film, such as they were, constituted pretty much the most repellent white male characters in cinema who aren't Charles Manson in Helter Skelter. Okay, that's an exaggeration—neither of these characters has the energy to contrive mass murder, really—but it's not a stretch to say that these two fellows could just as well have been named "Douche 1" and "Douche 2." There's Jed, the perpetually broke, snide mooch portrayed by Alex Karpovsky, and there's the even more despicable "chef" Keith (David Call), who's got a girlfriend, and is clearly mostly interested in manipulating Dunham's character into stealing pills for him, and whom Wells allows is "a bit of a dick." A bit? Man. These characters make a convincing case that not only is chivalry dead among male heterosexuals in their twenties, but that actual, you know, conversation is as well. These are cats whose idea of a romantic dinner is probably rest-stop Arby's in a drainage ditch. I gathered that part of the film's whole point was that its lead character Aura was sufficiently beaten down—by her self-image, her privileged but non-enriching circumstances, and her uncertainty on "life" "direction"—that these losers came to look like desirable/viable choices to her, and that was part of the film's poignancy. But what do I know? Jeff Wells thought they were "nice."
Incidentally, Wells' commentariat, inasmuch as it weighed in, seemed less than impressed with either the prospect of seeing the film or the film itself as seen. "...middling 'woe-is-me' young-ish, white person of privilege film...", "rich entitled New York douchebag translates her money and connections into a career by crapping out shallow self referential garbage...", "once you've stripped mined [sic] what little your 20-something life has to offer, that vein is tapped out..." Wow. Some very bitter characters over there, huh? But this speaks, I think, to a real problem facing younger filmmakers of this vein, such as it is, or the vein represented by Kentucker Audley's recent Open Five; for all the critical plaudits such films garner, they are often met with reflexive suspicion and/or outright hostility not just by, say, bitter old people, but by potential members of their ostensible target audience who, rather than seeing artful depictions of situations they can "relate" to, see wasteful indulgences. I just wrote "for all the critical plaudits such films garner," but in fact part of the problem can be brought on by such plaudits, which can look like addled overkill or self-interested special pleading. And that's all I've got to say about that, at the moment. (Except that I am tickled by my pal Richard Brody's description of Open Five's Jake Rabinbach as a "rocker;" the guy looks like he'd drop dead of a heart attack forty seconds into a Mission of Burma number...a slow Mission of Burma number...) For the micro-indie filmmaker who's not promoting his or her work as a ticket into the mainstream (which Dunham herself is, as her recent deals with Judd Apatow, HBO, and Scott Rudin indicate), genuine audience-building remains a huge challenge.