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March 13, 2011

Thanks to 'Tiny Furniture,' Lena Dunham Hits It Big
by Liz McKeon - 0

By Susannah Gora, Friars Club Comedy Film Festival

Copyright Tiny Furniture
Tiny Furniture tells the story of an endearingly aimless native New Yorker stumbling to find herself during that murky period between the end of college — and the beginning of everything else. The film gives us a fictionalized glimpse into what was, not too long ago, the real life of Lena Dunham, its director, writer, and star. But now, thanks to her wry yet touching movie about a girl who can’t seem to find her place in the world, Dunham has handily secured her own place in the world of comedy — as its new darling. Dunham’s script just won the Independent Spirit Award for best first screenplay, and it has now also been nominated for Viacom’s new Comedy Awards, which will air April 10th on networks including Comedy Central, VH1, and Nick at Night. (This all comes after the film won Best Feature at South By Southwest last year.) Oh, and when she’s not busy giving acceptance speeches, Dunham is working hard on her new project for HBO —executive-produced by Judd Apatow.

The line Tiny Furniture draws between fiction and autobiography is unquestionably thin. Dunham’s character, Aura, has just graduated from a liberal arts college in Ohio (Dunham herself went to Oberlin), and, after being dumped by her boyfriend so he can find himself at Burning Man (natch), has moved back home into her family’s Tribeca loft. Her mother, Siri, is an important photographer known for her surreal shots of dollhouse furniture; the character is played by Laurie Simmons, Dunham’s real-life mother and an important photographer known for her surreal shots of dollhouse furniture. Also in the mix is Aura’s sister, the younger, thinner, poetry-award winning Nadine, played by — you guessed it — Dunham’s younger, thinner, poetry-award-winning sister, Grace.

Copyright Tiny Furniture
While her accomplished mom and sister throw themselves determinedly into their arts, Aura finds herself rudderless, wondering what to do with her film theory degree, and her life. So she gets a job hostessing at a chic restaurant, hangs out with her high school friends, steals money from her mother’s designer purse, and enters into not one but two humiliating attempts at relationships with the opposite sex. She is self-deprecating to an extreme: Upon receiving a compliment from a friend telling her that she looks nice, Aura replies, “Oh, are you serious? I feel like this outfit just screams, ‘I’ve been living in Ohio for four years, take me back to your gross apartment and have sex with me.’” But amidst the boho-chic apartments, the angst, the East Village parties, the insecurity and — yes — the whining, there is tremendous heart in Dunham’s compelling tale. And throughout it all, Aura doubts herself in the most charmingly neurotic way: Tiny Furniture is the kind of movie that a young Woody Allen might have come up with, if he had ovaries and a Twitter account.

It’s a small movie, to be sure — Tiny Furniture was made for around twenty-five thousand dollars, written and shot in two months and filmed on a Sony Camcorder that Dunham’s parents had gotten her for her birthday. But the fact that a film on this scale could become such an important part of the pop cultural conversation — in the era of Avatar — speaks to the power of Dunham’s keen mastery of storytelling. "I never am thinking about trying to capture a reality very much larger than my own," Dunham has said. "But I like to think that the work that is most personal manages to be universal to the most people." Luckily for those of us waiting excitedly for Dunham’s next project, she’s absolutely right.

Photo credit: Suzannah Gold
Entertainment journalist Susannah Gora is a Senior Programmer of The Friars Club Comedy Film Festival (, which featured Tiny Furniture as a Spotlight Film in its 2010 fest. Gora is the author of "You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation" (Random House/Crown) which covers the history and pop-cultural impact of 1980s youth films like The Breakfast Club. A former Associate Editor of Premiere Magazine, Gora has also covered film and the entertainment industry for outlets including Variety, Elle, The Washington Post, AOL, MTV, and The Huffington Post. Visit her on the web at

The Friars Club Audience Award is currently being presented during the Mary Dolan Stand Up Comedy Hour!
Last year's winners, All Girl Revue, won a performance slot at the Friars Club, and the prize this year adds a performance at The World Comedy Club along with it!

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