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Coming of age

'Tiny Furniture' adroitly navigates that post-collegiate in-between time.

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'TINY FURNITURE': Laurie Simmons and Lena Dunham star.
  • 'TINY FURNITURE': Laurie Simmons and Lena Dunham star.

Perhaps the first hard existential turn in a young person's life is the post-collegiate malaise. You move back home, get a crummy job and attempt to navigate the family you haven't lived with in years. Precocious 24-year-old filmmaker Lena Dunham captures this dilemma perfectly in her semi-autobiographical comedy, "Tiny Furniture."

What has become the indie darling of 2010, "Tiny Furniture" is the story of Aura (Dunham), a recent film-school grad who moves home to the spacious Tribeca apartment of her (real-life) artist mother (Laurie Simmons). She's dealing with an abrupt breakup with her college boyfriend, and she spends her days at home feeling estranged from her college friends, rekindling old NYC relationships and trying not to step on the feelings of her mother and teen-age sister while wallowing in her own disenchantment.

While attending a party, Aura meets Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a comic video-artist who works under the painful moniker "The Nietzschian Cowboy." Like a vintage Woody Allen character, Jed is charming in a blankly funny way — his dialogue is so realistic he might have improvised it on the spot — and Aura tries her hand at picking him up and bringing him home, only to end up with a temporary, platonic roommate.

At the behest of her gorgeous nutjob best friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), Aura lands a job as a hostess at a restaurant around the corner. Aura, who has probably never held an hourly wage position before in her life, attempts to flirt her days away with the conventionally handsome and conventionally cynical sous chef, Keith.

Jed and Keith foil each other in their orbit around Aura's wobbly existence — Jed is wise, hilarious and a great companion, but totally asexual, while Keith is hot and mysterious, but without much depth. Aura's flubs with each serve merely as a distraction from the real matter at hand: her family.

The most uncanny depiction in the film lies in the dynamic of sisterhood. Aura's bright younger sister Nadine (played by real-life little sister, Grace Dunham,) is better looking, more focused and more ambitious, but lacks the dramatic flair and attention-grabbing humor that Aura possesses. Their mutual hunger for expression fosters a competitive edge in Nadine, who wants to be like her sister only better, and can't help but turn to scathing pettiness in her frustration. 

"Tiny Furniture" adheres to indie tropes while still trying to fight itself out of that stereotype. Every now and then, the feckless-jerk character arc mimics that of last year's "Greenberg," but it's still undeniably a movie about a flailing young woman yearning for relevance. Dunham's sense of humor is witty and understated, but it's the straight characters like the floozy Charlotte and Aura's mother Siri who deliver the best jokes. The film's uncomfortable climax relies on a tired female coming-of-age moment, which disappoints a little amidst an otherwise sharply mature script. However, the way that misadventure fits into Aura's mother-daughter rapport becomes almost pathetically endearing.

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