For the brilliantly observed Girls, HBO’s latest foray into the realm of half-hour comedy, the network has paired writer/star Lena Dunham, current darling of the indie scene, with exec producer Judd Apatow, king of the thirty-something life crisis comedy, in what appears to be a match made in heaven. A notable member of the SXSW alum (her feature debut Tiny Furniture won the top prize back in 2009), Dunham’s careful exploration of white, privileged, middle-class angst is unsurprisingly rooted in the mumblecore tradition, with a little by the way of Wes Anderson’s fetishism for tight interior shots and flat, portrait composition thrown in to boot.
A Midwest native with an English degree, now living in New York, Dunham’s Hannah Horvath is a sad sack of the highest order. The kind of pale, directionless, vaguely exasperated character Philip Seymour Hoffman has built his career on playing; only this is a girl in her twenties. Still suckling the parental teat with little to no shame (“Like, do you know how bad the economy is right now?”) Horvath is a pitch-perfect embodiment of this most privileged generation. Her friends are all equally listless; from the backpacking English trippy-dippy-hippy, Jessa (Jemima Kirke), to the go-getting PR wannabe, Marnie (Allison Williams). Not to say that they wouldn’t grab onto direction with both hands should it at any point fall into their lap. They would. Going out and finding it? That just wouldn’t occur.
Confident enough to pass up easy targets in favor of something more substantive, Girls is a back-handed tip-of-the-hat to those who spend four years getting a liberal arts degree only to listlessly drift through the next ten in an oh-so earnest effort to ‘find themselves’ while mom and dad pay the rent, the health insurance, and cell phone bill. Only now mom and dad have had enough – mom wants a lake house, damn it – and Hannah is on her own staring down the prospect of having to put aside her novel and go get a job.
Yet rather than lazily poking fun at the entitled hipsters of Williamsburg and Fort Green, Dunham has bigger fish to fry. In addition to being extremely funny, Girls is also a well-informed indictment of an entire generation who raised their children to believe that blue-collar work was beneath them, and that not only could they do better, but that they must do better. Hannah Horvath is the monster that they created; overeducated, under-skilled, not economically viable, and of the opinion that an eighteen month, unpaid internship in publishing or new media is an acceptable substitute for actual work.
That’s not to say that anyone on display here is even particularly happy; mopey, disillusioned, and positively overflowing with unresolved, existential despair, as they all appear to be. Despite being both the driving force behind the concept and the star of the show, Dunham’s performance is utterly devoid of ego. Hannah might live rent-free, but there is certain drabness to being carefree in the new millennium presented here. Even the idleness seems labored, with Hannah’s booty-call to her local, bohemian boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver), culminating in an excruciating (in every sense) bout of impromptu, aborted anal sex on the couch, followed by some half-assed obligatory cuddling.
At the very end, in an oddly perfect metaphor, Adam gets up and goes into the next room, taking the blanket with him and leaving Hannah on the couch, naked, exposed, and oddly bewildered by her circumstance. As Ben Folds famously wrote of Rocking the Suberbs: “You don’t know what it’s like to be born middle-class and white!” Delicately put, Ben. Delicately put.
Danielle Panabaker's Top Pop Picks
"I'm really into the Avett Brothers as of late."
"My girlfriends are I - we are very nerdy. We started a book club and the first book we read was Gone Girl."
"I thought it was a great film and I thought Jennifer Lawrence was incredible, you know those angry tears, I've certainly experienced that."
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