and sometimes poetry

Tiny Furniture (2010) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Tiny Furniture has gotten a lot of hype for having been written, directed, and acted in by some 22 year old New Yorker with a famous artist-mom—in the movie the writer/director/star plays a 22 year old New Yorker with a famous artist-mom. The girl, whose real name we are too lazy to google but who plays “Aura” in the movie, has just graduated from liberal arts college in Ohio and is back in the City, living in her famous artist-mom’s apartment with her cute over-achieving sister and being morose. There are lots of “this is a really hard time for me” scenes that, we suspect, the movie wants to cut both ways: as displays of bourgeoisie privilege and an indictment of it. But alas like much else in the real world, privilege is hierarchical and caring about Aura or her misfortunes is rather difficult when it’s made clear throughout the movie that they are temporary and largely self-assumed. By the end of the movie, she’s got a video piece in a gallery show and has been fucked in a big industrial-type pipe on the street (seen to be believed) by the hot chef at her work. She’s still living at her famous artist-mom’s Tribeca loft, but she gets to curl up in bed with her and tell her all her problems. Were our own first years post-liberal arts college graduation so disarming, and affectionate.

Our own first year after graduating from liberal arts college was passed in alcoholic splendor and despair. We too had many debasing sexual encounters, though none with men so handsome as Aura’s chef. We managed a diner, and unlike Aura who quits her service industry job after her first paycheck, were asked to resign eight months in, after a series of crying fits had mostly out back by the dumpsters became a series of crying fits had mostly next to the soda gun. Once a waitress had a panic attack in front of us over a scheduling change we’d made, or failed to make. We remember going up to the office and falling to our knees as though to pray. The world! Fuck us, the world! That is the cry of everyone coming out of liberal arts colleges, a giant baby-wail of sheer hunger and terror that peters out, over the course of the post-collegiate years, to a kind of low-level moan; that is our generation’s gurgle. What to do with all of that expensive, pointless education? What to do with all of our pointless, humiliating selves?

Tiny Furniture doesn’t even begin to answer any of those questions. On some level it does recognize that graduating from college is one of the biggest emotional, psychological, and economic traumas whole swathes of American youth will face, but it also doesn’t want to admit that graduating from college is one of the biggest economic traumas its star won’t have to. Also, on all levels, it’s boring and filled with sucky dialogue. There’s a scene where Aura is talking about porn with the hot chef. It seems almost impossible to not get this right—after all, talking about porn with someone of the opposite sex you’re not sleeping with is one of the single most titillating conversations you’ll ever have. And yet the two actors sound like middle-schoolers discussing the variety of sandwich they’ve got in their lunch bags. The other thing the movie does a lot is show us Aura walking around without her pants on. She has what various other reviewers are calling a “real body” which means she’s got biggish thighs and a butt. Whoop-de-doo. The point is that she’s real, she’s got a body, she’s got issues too. That’s fine. But with the same amount of bland, insipid dialogue, don’t we all.

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