I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Girls will be Girls: Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture

by Susan Cohen
March 30, 2015

I hate Lena Dunham in the way that all modern 20-something females of a certain smart, creative ilk hate her: Because she did it first. She made it possible for (mostly) realistic portrayals of modern 20-something females of a certain smart, creative ilk (and, unfortunately, of a certain economic class and ethnic background) to become relevant on a wider cultural scale. There wasn’t really a movie quite like Tiny Furniture before Lena Dunham came around, and there hasn’t been one made like it since then — at least not one that has seen the same amount of success.

And if Dunham had stopped there, it’s possible that she would have escaped the backlash that came along with the release of her Girls. Instead, she became the pop culture-appointed voice of her generation, just like she predicted in her first script, whether her generation has embraced her or not.

But she can’t really be the voice of her generation, because at the end of the day, Dunham was born with the money, the famous-in-certain-circles name, the bohemian class that the rest of us aspire to. Even if her artistry is undoubtedly hers, she’s had an easier time at the post-production level. She didn’t hide this fact in Tiny Furniture, but in Girls Dunham has been downsized, given more humble origins, probably so that her character would appeal more to the masses of HBO subscribers.

And so, for those of us modern 20-something females of a certain smart, creative ilk who haven’t been able to turn our day hostess job experiences into smash success, it’s no surprise that we feel disconnected from Dunham. We can’t really embrace her, because she isn’t one of us, even when she’s pretending to be on television.

Nepotism aside, Tiny Furniture is still a special, quintessential 21st-century DIY film, even if her DIY aesthetic doesn’t match that of, let’s say, Broad City, a show that really showcases what it’s like be a young female semi-slacker (but that’s a discussion for another time). Dunham’s movie was shot on a DSLR, the cast is made up of mostly non-professional relatives and friends, and the Dunham family apartment makes up the central set. Oh that apartment, with its never-ending matching white cabinets and beautiful symmetry. It’s an exquisite set piece and plays as much of a role in the film as Dunham herself. It’s a special kind of apartment that most of us will never get the chance to even go into, let alone live in with our parents.

The first time I saw Tiny Furniture was before there was a Girls, when Dunham’s fledgling fame was still buzzing around the more aware parts of the internet. Back then, I found Aura understandably obnoxious, but with three seasons of Girls under my belt, I can appreciate her. Aura is glitzier version of Hannah Horvath, bred in Tribeca instead of upper-middle-class Ohio. With long, greasy hair and flashy accessories, she’s a 22-year-old who looks and acts 22, because she’s played by someone who is and who acts that age, which also means that she’s sometimes/mostly unlikeable. Dunham makes it so easy to dismiss her characters for their selfishness and lack of foresight, and it’s hard to separate Dunham the filmmaker from Dunham the actress who happens to be portraying an autobiographical character in the film she also wrote and directed. Aura (and Hannah) may be clueless, but how can Dunham be if she came up with the damn thing?

And in the end, that’s the main reason why I hate her. Not only is she more successful than I will ever be. She’s also smarter too.



Susan Cohen decided to leave her career in journalism to go back to school — for journalism. She's still not sure if she made a mistake. Visit susanjcohen.com to learn more about her.