It would be only too easy to dismiss Lena Dunham’s first feature as an exercise in self-serving mumblecore whinge-ery. So, Aura, the pretentiously named film studies graduate played by Dunham, is newly single, in a post-college quandary and back in her successful artist mother’s upscale Manhattan pad: are we meant to feel sorry for her just because she needs to find a job and get a boyfriend? Some viewers will probably buy out early on, but if you look beyond Dunham’s admittedly resistible little-girl-lost act, this sarky indie makes some insightful points about the challenge of constructing yourself when your cultural surroundings (perhaps even your family) drain your confidence at every turn.
There’s some wily storytelling here, as bumbling Aura’s facility for misjudging romantic entanglements shows us a character whose rite of passage is something of a careen. Yet her misadventures throw up points of connection with our own vulnerabilities in a way which recalls, say, early Woody Allen, retooled for a new century. While the lovable specky male geek is a familiar type, Dunham’s daring in putting her own pear-shaped frame unflatteringly and deliberately centre stage can hardly be underestimated, marking an act of defiance against the body-beautiful conventions of our celeb-centric universe.
Casting her own mum (artist Laurie Simmons, trademark: tiny furniture) and little sis (Grace Dunham) as versions of themselves only adds to the emotional authenticity of this insidiously engaging celluloid miniature, a deft self-portrait of someone who hasn’t reached the point where they can take themselves seriously.