Lena Dunham's droll comedy "Tiny Furniture" played at the Maryland Film Festival in May and opens Friday at the Charles with support from the festival. Dunham is ludicrously young (24) and ludicrously talented. Her work draws strongly on her life. The movie is about a recent Oberlin grad with a New York artist-mother, who is famous for photographing miniatures, and a younger sister, who is a prize-winning student poet -- which all fits Dunham's own biography. To make matters downright Pirandellian, Dunham plays the heroine, and her mother and sister play the mother and sister.
But "Tiny Furniture" shouldn't be lumped with dreary autobiographical examples of DIY cinema. Dunham is a real moviemaker. During an interview she did with me for tomorrow's Live, she was perceptive and funny about all her characters. Though she downplayed her sense of craft, she happily confessed that she and her cinematographer, Jody Lee Lipes, studied scenes from Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan" before they shot "Tiny Furniture." They wanted to see how Allen and his cinematographer, Gordon Willis, "shot movies about small problems and neurotic characters that felt a little more grand." Dunham chose a wide-screen, 2.35 to 1 aspect ratio and lit the film to mimic real life – as Dunham put it, "Like when you put on make up so it looks like no make up." That's hard to do when you're shooting in an apartment with white walls. But they did it.
Dunham said she loves a lot of comedies that make people squirm, whether by Larry David or Mike Leigh. She also loves "comedies that people think are broader or glossier. I'm a huge fan of Nora Ephron movies. I like a lot of movies that are considered bromances or frat comedies. I adored 'Anchorman' and 'Old School.'"
Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up") is the executive producer of her new HBO series (which starts shooting in April). Dunham says "I was a big fan before I ever worked with him. He's been brilliant on this show, also very generous and lovely. He and his work are more complex than people give him credit for."
Dunham has gotten credit for her complexity early on. Happily, she deserves it.