UCFS Screening #19: Lena Dunham Surprise

I think it’s the perfect time for this week’s screening; yesterday was International Women’s Day, and I’m proud to introduce the next feature in the Female Directors Series, Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture. Although most of you probably know of her through her award-winning HBO series Girls (or some of you may not know of her at all, which then you’re in for a treat), Dunham has been making films since the early 2000’s. Dunham’s mumblecore style filmmaking deals heavily with promoting and de-stigmatizing female sexuality on screen. Her series Girls, in particular, is praised for its realistic portrayal of female sexuality and Dunham’s unapologetic representation of her own body. Dunham recently went to social media to publicly announce her absence in the press tour for the final season of the series due to her struggle with endometriosis, a disorder which involves the inner lining of the uterus to grow on the outside, resulting often in extreme pain. I know, you’re thinking this is a lot of personal information to include in an introduction of our weekly screening, but in light of International Women’s Day, Dunham’s honesty and refusal to be boxed into how society believes a public woman should act is why I wanted to choose her work this week and to present it in our Female Director Series. Her films, as well as her public persona, portray women who don’t fit into Hollywood’s idea of the ‘idealized woman’; instead, these women are flawed and honest and sometimes extremely irritating (you’ll understand when you meet Aura, Dunham’s character in the film).
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Dunham’s career breakthrough, Tiny Furniture (2010), premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival where it received the award for Best Narrative Feature. The success of the film ended up landing Dunham the blind script deal from HBO for Girls. Tiny Furniture tells the story of Aura (Lena Dunham) who has just graduated, been dumped by her boyfriend and is forced to move back into her mother’s loft in Tribeca. Dunham has noted that a lot of the moments in the film are inspired by her own experiences. Aura’s mother and sister are played by Dunham’s own mother, Laurie Simmons, and sister, Grace Dunham. Dunham’s use of non-professional actors within the film is a characteristic of the film’s mumblecore style, which is a subgenre of independent filmmaking. Mumblecore was born out of the independent, festival style of filmmaking in the early 2000’s, largely understood as beginning with Andrew Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha in 2002. The style centres around a desire for naturalism, which is accomplished with the use of non-professional actors and often loose script. Although, for Tiny Furniture, Dunham used a tight script rather than allowing much room for improvisation which results in the distinctive dialogue that Dunham is known for. Mumblecore is also often more based on personal relationships and interactions between characters than it is plot driven. Other directors involved in the style include Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig and Anna Kendrick, to name a few.
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In the essay insert in the Criterion release of the film, Phillip Lopate states that “Our culture flatters the young, holding them up as the standard of beauty and insouciance. But Dunham shows the other side: what it’s like to be powerless, at sea, lonely, forced into low-paying, soul-destroying jobs that have nothing to do with one’s intended lifework, and not nearly liberated as envious elders would like to believe”. In a generation of young women and men who have been forced into post-secondary institutions to be offered a chance at a better life than our parents and our grandparents had, Dunham speaks to the struggles all millennials face, the honest and the embarrassing and the downright pathetic. Her work represents the good, the bad, and the ugly in all of us and I think that’s why she’s become such an important voice for this generation of young women. I hope you all enjoy the film!
By Rashelle Ashcroft
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