In the first episode of the television series Girls, Lena Dunham’s character: aspiring writer, Hannah, tells her parents that she may be ˜the voice of a generation’ or at least ˜a voice of a generation.’ It’s a beautiful moment of self-deprecating humour, as Dunham herself is actually being hailed, in some circles at least, as the voice of her generation: the post-recession, social media savvy, post-post-modern generation. Of which, I’m assuming, myself and most of my friends are a part. Oh dear.
Girls follows on from the success of Dunham’s first feature length film, Tiny Furniture (2010), which she wrote, directed and played the lead part- based not-so-loosely on herself and her own experiences as an unemployed graduate, living back at home with her parents in New York City. In fact, it’s so true to life that it co-stars Dunham’s real-life mother and 17-year old sister: artist Laurie Simmons and Grace Dunham as lead character, ˜Aura’s’ “ you guessed it- mother and sister. We are treated to a brief snapshot of a typical middle-class, liberal art grad’s emergence from the student chrysalis; and all the attendant existential angst, wayward ambition, confusion, and terminal lethargy.
Aura, who seems to possess some latent artistic talent (she makes arty YouTube videos), just can’t seem to get herself together. Back in the city after being broken up with by her university boyfriend, a ˜male-feminist’ apparently, who claimed he had to build a shrine to his ancient ancestors out of a dying tree, she takes a job at a local restaurant and embarks on a series of unrewarding relationships with men equally as self-involved and directionless. And exasperates her highly motivated family with her morose listlessness.
It seems an incredibly narcissistic foray into self-examination, and it is, in the best possible way. Because Lena Dunham’s portrayal of herself as Aura is executed so unforgivingly, so honestly and with such self-awareness that the character actually seems to dissolve away; and the viewer is left feeling, at times, like they might actually be watching themselves. My mother, an occasional artist, gave me some great advice when I first tried my hand at painting portraits. It was: draw people as they are, don’t leave out bumps, wrinkles, spots, big noses or droopy eyes- an airbrushed image will immediately seem dishonest, and people will intuitively reject it. The same is true of film. Dunham’s uncompromising portrayal of herself is so wonderfully relatable because of its authenticity.
I identify so much with Tiny Furniture and the story it tells, as it reminds me so much of my own experiences and those of my fellow grads. Our time away from home had fooled us into believing we were grown-up, independent adults- with all the answers. And yet I felt more confused about the ˜real-world’ after University, than I had before it. It might have been the enormous financial meltdown, or my self-indulgent humanities degree, which seemed pretty useful for getting me fast-tracked into a menial, administrative role- a bitter pill to swallow after three years of saying profound, witty things in political philosophy essays.
Instead, young graduate, you are now to learn the ways of petty office politics, the realization that what you are doing is the electronic equivalent of burger flipping, and that you are being managed by someone who never bothered going to university at all. Nice. With your huge, whopping sense of entitlement, you will resent this.
But, don’t worry. You’ll probably quit and go find yourself, eventually becoming a highly acclaimed writer and filmmaker. Every movie has a happy ending.