With a program perfectly attuned to its neighborhood, BAM CinemaFest should attract Brooklyners and Manhattanites alike. Running from June 9th-June 20th, the festival at BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn, New York, will feature twenty films that have played in SXSW, Sundance, and other festivals, but before they hit theatres (if at all). I'm a big fan of BAM Rose Cinemas, which has a wonderful vibe and an amazing space. They play a mix of mainstream (Sex and the City 2) and arthouse (Please Give) movies, as well as special events like BAM CinemaFest, so it can be a go-to place whatever your mood. I had the chance to preview one of the movies that will play in the festival, Tiny Furniture. A SWSW premiere, the movie has been picked up by IFC Films.
The movie stars Lena Dunhan, who also wrote the script (in one week) and directed. Her real sister and mother play her sister and mother in the movie, something I didn't realize until after seeing the movie, and it takes place in her actual apartment. Perhaps because the script is so close to Dunham's actual life, the movie is able to capture the type of real-life insights that feel forced in more polished, Hollywood movies. This is the kind of movie that makes you think, 'Aha! That is exactly how that is!' It's also the kind of indie movie that's so good, it makes you wish you watched more indie movies.
Dunham plays a girl who just graduated from college. She lounges around her mother's fabulous Tribeca apartment/art studio, a bit of an outsider to her mother (Laurie Simmons) and sister's (Grace Dunham) established routine. She reconnects with an old friend and bad influence (Jemima Kirke), acquires and loses a dead-end job, and flirts with both a co-worker (David Call) with a girlfriend and a struggling artist she lets stay at her apartment (Alex Karpovsky). It's more of a slice-of-life, mood-driven film than something plot-driven. Quick lines like "I think you sound like you're in the epilogue to 'Felicity'" are mixed with tangential conversations with friends and a spot-on representation of post-college wallowing and anxiety. Anyone five years out of a liberal arts college (Dunham herself graduated from Oberlin) will appreciate the movie's accuracy and subtle skewering of the resultant lifestyle. Given how many such people live within a five-mile radius of BAM Rose Cinemas, it's an excellent choice for the festival.
One of the most interesting, unique parts of the movie is how Dunham's looks mediate the audience's understanding of the narrative, particularly her romances (if you watch the trailer, you can get a sense on how she brings her looks and weight into the narrative). Dunham looks beautiful in some shots, but more often she appears with unwashed hair, casual clothing and little makeup. When she's trying to figure out if a guy likes her, the audience doesn't think it's a given, the way they would if they saw Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher together in Killers. They're actually wondering if the guy will find her attractive enough to pursue her, and what about their personalities is driving their connection. She's also treated poorly by the men she's involved with, and one wonders if they are treating her badly because she just looks like she is someone that they can get away with treating badly. I personally haven't felt this way about an actress since I saw Muriel's Wedding (starring Toni Collette). In the movie, Collette plays a Plain Jane that also vacillates between looking pretty and looking plain. She so desperately wants to get married, she ties the knot with someone who marries her for immigration purposes. As an audience member, you're also wondering whether he will eventually fall in love with her--a way you wouldn't feel if the man had married Marilyn Monroe for immigration purposes. I admire that Dunham didn't try to look done-up and polished but gave the audience an ambiguous view of her looks that made the movie more interesting and firmly indie.
Tiny Furniture is Dunham's second movie (Creative Nonfiction was the first) and will probably open within the next year through IFC. The movie is playing at BAM CinemaFest this Friday, June 11th, at 6:50pm.