Lena Dunham is one of those over-achieving young women that someone like myself should ostensibly hate. At 25, she’s already written, directed and starred in an indie smash hit and now calls perennial funnyman Judd Apatow a close friend, as he executive produces her upcoming HBO series Girls, which began its infiltration of our television screens this past Sunday. But no… I can’t, I just can’t fucking hate her. In fact, I find myself daydreaming of frolicking through the fields of McCarren Park, sipping take-out margaritas and carefully dissecting the details of our latest sexual exploitations. You see world, I must admit, I am harboring a serious lady crush on Ms. Lena. A totally hetero-infused, all-encompassing lady crush.
A born and bred New Yorker, Dunham is the daughter of photographer Laurie Simmons and painter Carroll Dunham. After attending high school in Brooklyn, Lena abandoned the grit and grime for the quaint Ohio landscape of Oberlin College where she spent four years studying creative writing. There she began finding her voice as the misanthropic poster-child of Generation Y. Equal parts self-deprectating and enviably confident, each of Dunham’s projects are an almost immediate reflection of her own daily life. And that, dear friends, is the anchor of my esteem for her. Behind the sometimes painfully sarcastic humor or the bordering on cliche innuendos about life as a 20-something, Dunham is unquestionably one of the most relatable ingenues of her day. Add to that her unabashed ability to appear naked on screen more than Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls without breaking a sweat, and well…there you’ve found the root of our collective lady love.
They say that the best advice you can give a writer, or any creative mind for that matter, is to “Write what you know.” Dunham certainly took note, as each character she writes is not only an element taken from her own interactions, but are universally recognizable aspects of any 20-something’s social circle. Tiny Furniture, the film which awarded Dunham “Best Narrative Feature” at the 2011 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, was a loose narrative of Dunham’s personal struggle with the all-too-common post-college dilemma. Being forced to move back to New York City after four years of suburbia, living in the immaculate TriBeCa home of her neurotic artist mother and mildly tortuous younger sister (played by, well… her artist mother and younger sister) and trying to navigate the ins and out of becoming an adult. Ladies of the world, does that not sound familiar? Sure, it’s not the first time this has been done, and we can all rest assured it won’t be the last. Dunham, however, manages to create characters so close to life, dialogue so natural, it’s almost uncomfortable.
“Stories about great sex are boring… and nobody really wants to hear them.” These are the words spoken to me by a close friend and confidante after yet another 40-minute recap of my latest sexual exploit. Fans of Dunham’s work will know that no hormone-induced mishap is too taboo or tasteless. In both Tiny Furniture and Girls, Dunham explores the less than glamorous side of sexuality, focussing in on the awkward grunts, painful mishaps and emotional let down that is often left ignored in the romantic comedies and late-night sitcoms of network television. From one night stands in the streets of New York to casual arrangements with a kinky hipsters, Dunham has an almost comical way of desexualizing even the most salacious encounters.
This weekend marked the much-anticipated premiere of the aforementioned HBO series Girls. With a cast of relative unknowns, and Dunham herself playing the role of perennial misanthrope Hannah, the show follows a quartet of quirky compadres as they attempt to navigate the sights and sounds of postgraduate life in New York City. Allison Williams, daughter of NBC anchor Brian Williams, plays Dunham’s seemingly perfect and yet perfectly flawed roommate Marnie Michaels. Former co-star (and real life best friend) Jemima Kirke appears as the feisty Brit Jessa, returning to New York to live with younger cousin Shoshana (Zosia Mamet), an overzealous student in her final year of college.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so or have somehow managed to ignore the oft-defaced posters adorning your neighborhood construction site, it’s hard not to notice the extensive amount of hype this show is garnering. With four strong women in the lead, and the promise of an uncensored look into the depths of New York City life, Girls has unsurprisingly been compared (in just about every article written) to the original (playing it “real”) NYC gals of Sex and the City, and the much-exaggerated going-abouts of the Gossip Girl set. Dunham by no means intends to shy away from those comparisons.
“Sex and the City depicted women who had mastered their careers and were now being driven crazy by the tick of their biological clocks. Gossip Girl is about losing your virginity and gaining popularity in a world where no one is old enough to vote or has to worry about making a living. But between adolescence and adulthood is the uncomfortable middle ground where women are ejected from college into a world with neither glamour or structure.” Dunham told the Wall Street Journal at a screening of the show at this years SXSW Festival.
With HBO and Judd Apatow on board, the buzz is by no means unexpected, but the question remains: is Dunham, a relative unknown up until last year, going to be able to fulfill the overwhelmingly high expectations that surround her? As Hannah puts it in the pilot episode of the show, “I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation.” If all goes according to plan, this is an astute foreshadowing of Dunham’s bright (and busy) future.