Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Marvel Announces 'Black Panther,' 'Captain Marvel,' Two-Part 'Avengers: Infinity War' And More Marvel Announces 'Black Panther,' 'Captain Marvel,' Two-Part 'Avengers: Infinity War' And More Exclusive: Sean Durkin Directed Video For Sharon Van Etten's "Your Love Is Killing Me" Exclusive: Sean Durkin Directed Video For Sharon Van Etten's "Your Love Is Killing Me" Benedict Cumberbatch Is Marvel's 'Doctor Strange' Benedict Cumberbatch Is Marvel's 'Doctor Strange' Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Series Finale — Season 5, Episode 8 ‘Eldorado’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Series Finale — Season 5, Episode 8 ‘Eldorado’ Watch: A Twisted Jake Gyllenhaal Crosses The Line In Wicked Red Band Trailer For ‘Nightcrawler’ Watch: A Twisted Jake Gyllenhaal Crosses The Line In Wicked Red Band Trailer For ‘Nightcrawler’ Watch: 'The Invisible Man,' A 50-Minute Documentary On The Life And Career Of Stanley Kubrick Watch: 'The Invisible Man,' A 50-Minute Documentary On The Life And Career Of Stanley Kubrick Seth Rogen, Megan Fox, Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Dave Franco And More Join James Franco’s 'Zeroville' Seth Rogen, Megan Fox, Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Dave Franco And More Join James Franco’s 'Zeroville' 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' Will Conclude With A 45-Minute Battle Sequence 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' Will Conclude With A 45-Minute Battle Sequence 10 Great Self-Absorbed, Narcissistic Movie Assholes 10 Great Self-Absorbed, Narcissistic Movie Assholes Kristen Stewart Says She's Taking "Time Off" From Acting To Pursue Other "Creative Endeavors" Kristen Stewart Says She's Taking "Time Off" From Acting To Pursue Other "Creative Endeavors" Watch: Zach Galifianakis Takes On Brad Pitt In Latest 'Between Two Ferns' Plus Louis C.K. Stops By Watch: Zach Galifianakis Takes On Brad Pitt In Latest 'Between Two Ferns' Plus Louis C.K. Stops By Watch: First Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron,' Brings Mass Destruction Along With Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver Watch: First Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron,' Brings Mass Destruction Along With Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver Watch: 'Star Wars' Prequels Recut Into 2 Hour 40 Minute 'Turn to the Darkside: Episode 3.1' Watch: 'Star Wars' Prequels Recut Into 2 Hour 40 Minute 'Turn to the Darkside: Episode 3.1' Edward Norton Says He Didn't Return To Play Hulk Because He Wanted More "Diversity" In His Film Roles Edward Norton Says He Didn't Return To Play Hulk Because He Wanted More "Diversity" In His Film Roles Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

SXSW '12 Review: HBO Series 'Girls' Solidifies Lena Dunham's Place As A Bold New Voice in American Comedy

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist March 12, 2012 at 9:25PM

As far as young independent filmmakers go, writer/director Lena Dunham has been the subject of an excessive amount of conversation and handwringing, even by the admittedly loose standards of the ever-chatty Internet age. Her first feature, "Creative Nonfiction," was accepted to South by Southwest and the follow-up, "Tiny Furniture," won the Best Narrative Feature award at the same festival. That film also managed to attract quite a bit of attention, with comedy world luminaries like Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow singing its praises and some comparing her confessional, no-nonsense style to the early work of Woody Allen.
10
Girls

As far as young independent filmmakers go, writer/director Lena Dunham has been the subject of an excessive amount of conversation and handwringing, even by the admittedly loose standards of the ever-chatty Internet age. Her first feature, "Creative Nonfiction," was accepted to SXSW and the follow-up, "Tiny Furniture," won the Best Narrative Feature award at the same festival. That film also managed to attract quite a bit of attention, with comedy world luminaries like Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow singing its praises and some comparing her confessional, no-nonsense style to the early work of Woody Allen.

It's just that there were just as many people who jumped up to condemn her – for her low-rent mumblecore aesthetic, her privileged upbringing, and (shallowly) her physical appearance. But that didn't stop her, or even slow her down. She's got a brand new HBO series debuting in mid-April called "Girls," produced by Apatow (and his "Freaks and Geeks" co-conspirator Jenni Konner), and the first three episodes were screened today as a kind of SXSW homecoming. As far as homecomings go, this one was pretty spectacular.

The main thrust of "Girls" (and just to be clear on the format, it's a 30-minute sitcom-ish thing, no dead bodies are discovered and, from what we saw, no sexy vampires are present) is established in the opening sequence, wherein Hannah (Dunham)'s parents inform her that they will no longer be offering their financial support. And before you can type #firstworldproblems, she's delivering an awkward spiel about the importance of her unpaid job as a publishing intern and the progress she's making on her first collection of personal essays. It sets the tone for the series well – smart, snappily written, poignant, and wonderfully uncomfortable (the whole series seems to exist in the jams of awkwardness most shows typically avoid). This isn't exactly a plane crash standing a group of disparate survivors on a mysterious jungle island, but it does make for a pretty nifty set-up, with elements of comedy and drama able to sneak in and intermingle nicely.

Girls Lena Dunham HBO

And while the main thread of "Girls" does focus on multi-hyphenate Dunham's character, it is called "Girls" for a reason and there are several satellite characters that are just as intriguing – Alison Williams (Brian Williams' daughter, cast in the part because of the YouTube video where she sings along to the "Mad Men" theme tune) plays Marnie, Hannah's more put-together roommate, who's struggling with her relationship to a too-nice boyfriend; Jemima Kirke plays Jessa, a loosey-goosey free spirit who, in an early episode deals with her unexpected pregnancy; and Zosia Mamet playing Jessa's cousin (she has a reduced capacity in the group, her big hang up is that she's still a virgin and she knowingly deconstructs "Sex & the City" in her introductory scene). All of the actresses are aces, and each of the characters so complex and layered that they could warrant their own show. Those who were impressed by "Tiny Furniture" but were somewhat wary of Dunham's screen presence will probably appreciate the division of time between the various subplots; Dunham's voice remains, while being wonderfully interpreted by other actors.

And that's the main impression you're left with after watching the first three episodes of "Girls" – what a tremendous leap forward it is from "Tiny Furniture." On a technical level, it's akin to the difference between a bottle rocket being set off in a dusty backyard and the first manned mission to the moon. This probably has to do with its Apatow-enhanced budget (per episode it probably costs more than ten "Tiny Furnitures"), but the cluster of episodes we saw were both written and directed by Dunham, and her proficiency behind the camera is shocking. (Maybe she was taking night classes?) There's a moment in the third episode where we follow Marnie from behind as she attends a swanky art world party, and the shot is scored to LCD Soundsystem's "I Can Change" (metaphor alert), and the shot is so outrageously gorgeous that you really cannot believe it's the same person who made the generously grubby "Tiny Furniture."

Girls Lena Dunham HBO 2

But it wouldn't mean a whole lot if the show just looked better, and thankfully Lena Dunham's maturation isn't limited to expert craftsmanship; she's also gotten better as a writer. While this is certainly in the same wheelhouse as "Tiny Furniture," with Dunham riffing on the hyper-literate, occasionally sarcastic, perpetually doomed character, there's more purpose here, more heart, and a sense of actual tension. She may just be the same aimless intellect, but here that feels a little bit dangerous. She's a character who is sad but always optimistic; it's what differentiates her from her mumblecore counterparts who are content to go through life using air quotes and only being able to muster enthusiastic shrugs. Dunham's Hannah feels and worries and laughs, and her relationships with her girl friends and her "boyfriend" (played by Adam Driver) are hilarious and compelling and achingly real (many of the scenes feel like they incorporate pointed improvisation).

The sensation you feel at the end of watching "Girls," though (if you aren't a little choked up – the last scene of episode 3 is a doozy), is one of discovery. Lena Dunham, for all the shit that's been talked on the Internet (sort of amazing given the postage-stamp size of the movie, maybe her canonization in the Criterion Collection is controversial?), is a bold new voice in the American comedy landscape. And while the screening of "Girls" episodes was supposed to be a homecoming, it felt more like a coming-out party. The series is beautiful and brilliant and, in a few weeks, all of American will join in the Lena Dunham discussion, only this time, it will be hard to argue her faults. [A] 

This article is related to: Girls, HBO , Lena Dunham, Review, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), SXSW Film Festival


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates