AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


CRITICAL WOMEN HEADLINES

4/8/12

Girls: Sex And The City In A Sea Of Uncertainty


By Winnie Bonelli
 
“Sex and the City” was a fantasy, clothed in designer rags, wealthy boyfriends, and high-profiled, lucrative careers. Taking off the rose colored glasses, HBO’s Girls introduces viewers to an entirely different breed of post-college graduate, one more akin to present reality, on Sunday at 10:30 p.m.
          
Hannah and her trio of best friends are floundering in a sea of uncertainty. Their career goals are battered by economical rough times and a scarcity of job opportunities. And instead of Mr. Big, Hannah’s “friend with benefits” is an eccentric wannabe actor (Adam Driver), who won’t answer her texts, until she’s standing underneath her window.. 
 
Even for viewers who can’t identify with Hannah’s dilemmas, humiliations, and sometimes-bad choices, Girls is a slice of life that generously delivers an equal portion of comedy and angst, laced with graphic sex scenes that bypass filmdom’s discretionary gimmicks.
        
Now meet Hannah’s alter ego – creator/star/writer/director Lena Dunham. Disarmingly real, Dunham still seems a bit befuddled by the attention notoriety brings.
        
Candid in her answers and appearing younger than her 24 years, Dunham confessed, “It’s (Girls) is closely based on my own experience of getting out of college in 2008 and not having a sense of whether I would ever get to do the thing I wanted to do, creative writing, and I was really miserable.

“I was working in a baby clothes store and just excited that I got free cookies in the afternoon. It was a really kind of confusing, frustrating time, and I saw a lot of my friends going through the same thing,” said Dunham, who was supplementing her income by babysitting.

And yes, the Manhattan-born, Brooklyn-reared actress concedes that she grew up watching Sex and the City. Dunham even bought into the propaganda that if she moved to Manhattan she’d have “a really elegant boyfriend and a really incredible shoe closet.” What greeted her instead was a harsh case of reality.

Following that sage advice of writing about what one knows best, the Oberlin College graduate Dunham penned an autobiographic screenplay titled Tiny Furniture. Raised $25,000 by begging and borrowing from family members and friends, with the exception of her grandmother. She continued,

“I was working with a great group of kids, who had gone to NYU. Film kids are really scrappy and sort of have this understanding of how to make a movie by the skin of their teeth. You feel like you have taken a ship hostage, like ‘Everyone’s coming with me,” she laughed. Artist/photographer Laurie Simmons was one of those “hostages” portraying Lena’s mother both on screen and in real life.

Tiny Furniture went on to become the film festival circuit’s darling and pivoted Dunham to indie icon status. It also attracted the attention of Judd Apatow, whose features credits include The Bridemaids. Apatow and Dunham’s friend, Jenni Konner, are now executive producers for Girls.

A little too short and pear-shaped to fit the stereotypical image of a starlet, Dunham swears she quit acting at age 11 after being cast as a bouncing ball in Alice in Wonderland. That changed when she started writing screenplays and the characters were essentially versions of herself. Then she rationed, “I don’t know who else is gonna want to do this. I guess I’ll play it.”

Filming Girls brought her face-to-face with the truth. “I realized that I do get something out of acting that I don’t get out of the rest of the process. It’s cathartic. It’s connected. It’s an adrenaline rush,” she admitted.

So what was grandma’s reaction when she finally saw Tiny Furniture and the first three episodes of Girls?  “My mom said, ‘Dottie,’ she’s like 93, ‘What do you think of the sex scenes?’ She went, ‘Oh, you know, that’s just what they do these days.”

Winnie Bonelli writes for Life & Style Magazine, The Independent [Hamptons], New Jersey Monthly and The Herald News. She is a member of The Women Film Critics Circle.