Editor’s note: With Girls premiering on HBO this weekend, we thought one of Kate’s favorites from SXSW was in need of a re-run. This review was originally posted on March 13, as part of our SXSW Film Festival coverage.
Multi-hyphenate Lena Dunham has previously hit SXSW with two unique efforts – in 2009, with the debut of her ambitious, lo-fi Creative Nonfiction, and follow-up in 2010 with the controversial Tiny Furniture, which earned the Narrative Feature award in that year’s section. Dunham’s work has proven polarizing – some people admire her self-effacing and very personal brand of filmmaking, while others balk at her navel-gazing style.
Returning to SXSW this year, Dunham again brought along a personal project about self-effacing, navel-gazing, shaky-legged twenty-something girls in the big city, but this time Dunham is serving as star/writer/director/producer on a television series, HBO’s Girls, produced with Judd Apatow. And while her previous works might not have the sort of widespread appeal that a television series would require, Dunham’s Girls is wickedly hilarious, quite accessible, and it proves that Dunham’s in-character pronouncement that she could be the voice of her generation is not far off – at all.
As part of the festival’s programming, SXSW showed the first three episodes of the series, and they serve as a sufficiently satisfying gateway into Dunham’s latest project. Our introduction to Dunham’s Hannah happens by way of a terrifically terrible dinner with her parents, as they inform her that they will no longer be supporting her. Two years after graduating college, Hannah is still stuck in an unpaid internship, and her family has grown tired of footing the bill. Finally forced into the real world, Hannah’s financial hardship serves as our entry point into her life and character – and her equally as challenged friends.
Hannah is joined by her best friend and roommate Marnie (Allison Williams), a beauty whose perfect hair and job at a chic gallery mask her deep unhappiness with her puppy dog boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott). Hannah and Marnie have recently been reunited by their gypsy pal Jessa (Jemima Kirke, playing a nice riff on her Furniture character), a directionless beauty that Marine scoffs at and that Hannah values for her sense of fun and adventure. Jessa has moved in with her younger cousin (Zosia Mamet), a prissy princess with her own issues. Because the show focuses on four young twenty-something girls in New York City, it will undoubtedly draw uneducated comparisons to Sex and the City – comparisons that are proven wrong within minutes of the show’s opening, and then firmly slain after Mamet proudly shows Jessa her prized SATC poster and starts trying to sum up both of them by way of shoddy SATC math (who has Charlotte hair, and who is a Carrie at heart, and who can make a little bit of Samantha come out when she wants to).
The girls of Girls are infinitely messier, multi-faceted, and more realistic than those of the former City. Dunham’s Hannah is indisputably the lead and the center of the show, but Williams’ Marnie and Kirke’s Jessa play admirable and interesting supporting characters, and by the third episode, Mamet has revealed herself to be just as compelling as the rest. Modern girls will see something of themselves in each of the four (even when it comes to the not-so-pretty stuff), and Dunham’s decision to make the show Girls plural opens up more possibilities and promise than the personal insularity of Creative Nonfiction and Tiny Furniture. Even in just three episodes, the many dimensions of the girls are slowly revealed, and their storylines all unspool with ease and authenticity.
And there’s also the fact that Girls is flat-out hilarious. Judd Apatow is a producer on this for a reason, and his humor blends together surprisingly and seamlessly with Dunham’s own style. The girls are not afraid to look unappealing or conflicted, and Dunham herself continues to exhibit an inspiring ability to laugh at herself. In just three episodes, we become acquainted with the ladies, their relationships, their jobs, and some of the (often awful) men in their lives with laughs to spare. It’s a hook – and I’ve bit.
The Upside: Dunham has crafted an accessible show that’s funny and wise and packed with very different characters that give the series depth and honesty.
The Downside: It might scare dudes?
On the Side: Be sure to check out Jack’s fantastic interview with Dunham and Apatow, right HERE.