Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Creative Nonfiction (Lena Dunham, 2009)

I have to admit: I initially wrote off Lena Dunham after seeing the awful trailer for her second feature Tiny Furniture. Sure that I would come away from the experience with a new indie pseudo-auteur earning my scorn, I expected the appearance of Alex Karpovsky to be the film's only saving grace. To my surprise, I thought it was a wonderful film, one of the best independents of recent years. While the trailer had suggested a cloying, "quirky" indie movie about one film graduate's post-college home life, replete with obnoxious non-sequitur dialogue, the film itself was sharply observed and genuinely funny. (In retrospect, perhaps that trailer wasn't so awful.) Dunham has continued to show herself to be an artist of consistent talent with HBO's Girls, whose second season has so far been brilliant.

Her very first feature, Creative Nonfiction, lacks the stylistic sophistication of Furniture (instead of carefully composed HD widescreen shots, we get shaky academy ratio DV), and I wouldn't be surprised if people were as turned off by this film as I had been by that trailer. Creative Nonfiction is, as much as I hate to use the term, full-on mumblecore. But after a recent second viewing, I was convinced that it's a very fine debut. Dunham herself seems to possess a little more charm here, before she decided to make her surrogates a little (or a lot) less likeable.

Lena plays Ella, a creative writing major who is writing a screenplay about a girl who is kidnapped and forced to write before escaping. Ella is also determined to lose her virginity, and begins trying to seduce her friend Chris who has been sleeping in her dorm room because of mold growing under his bed. Dunham's talent is already apparent in showing the nuances of Ella's interactions between her friends and classmates, particualrly with Chris, who betrays her by sleeping with one of her friends. Her loss of virginity finally happens with someone she is far less acquainted with than Chris, and the way she awkwardly turns down her his desire for a relationship is the same sort of self-centered behavior we'll see much more of in Dunham's later characters, and eventually become more critical of (I think).