I spent the weekend with my parents. I drove 350 miles by myself, armed with a podcast of Marc Maron’s hour-and-a-half-long interview with Lena Dunham and the audio version of Mindy Kaling’s book, Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? I’m very obsessed with these young, successful women right now. Their youth and their success bring me a weird womanly pride, all while feeling terrible about myself for not having accomplished more by now.
During the interview, Lena Dunham talked about her first feature film, Tiny Furniture, which she made right out of college for about $65,000 (and which, incidentally, just became available on Netflix not too long ago.) It stars Dunham, her mom, her sister and a significant portion of the cast from her HBO series Girls.
Unlike Girls, which focuses on the friendships of the characters, the feature really focuses on the relationship between mother and daughter. Since I was with my mom this weekend, I thought it would be fun to watch Tiny Furniture with her and then share my experiment with you.
In true Dunham fashion, Tiny Furniture is a study in discomfort. A sort of precursor to Girls, the film spotlights Aura (Dunham) as she goes through that horrible transitiony time between college and becoming a real human being. The bonus for me with Tiny Furniture is that I got to see Dunham’s interpretation of what this horrible part of life does to the mother/daughter relationship, all while sitting next to my mother, laptop balanced on my knees, one of my earbuds in each of our ears because my mom couldn’t hear the movie otherwise. We grunted and covered our eyes in all the same places as we watched Aura make terrible decisions with men and be mean to her mom.
The very best part about Lena Dunham’s work is that she demonstrates with such mastery the insecure, entitled, mealy and oftentimes degrading nature of being lost in your early 20s. I’m pretty sure we all experienced this stage, because Dunham grew up with her sister and two successful, happily married New York artists for parents. I grew up the only child of a public school teacher. She grew up in SoHo in an amazing apartment that is on the market right now for over $6 million. We never even owned a house. I was in high school before my mother ever got an grownup car. For much of childhood, she drove a safety-vest orange Ford Escort with no muffler. Yet it seems both Dunham and I allowed a series of cowardly boys to exponentially lower our self-esteem. It seems we both manipulated our mothers into bailing us out when we’d burned our lives to the ground, using all our cruel and dramatic tools.
And Dunham – whom I admittedly have a serious talent crush on – exposes this season of time to the masses in the most raw and real way, so we may all watch through our fingers, feeling the comfort of shared experience. She does what successful artists do: spins the dirty straw of life into gold.
When the movie was over, I shut my computer and put my hand on my mom’s knee. “I’m so sorry for being such an asshole,” I said. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I’m just so glad you’re in a different place now.” And then we talked for a long time about how grateful we were that Lena Dunham was actualized enough to have made this art, thus proving she’s lived through it and is in a different place now too.