I think I am supposed to like “Girls.”
But I don’t.
Lena Dunham is witty and insightful. Her perspective is fresh. “Girls” is the “Sex in the City” of my generation, with a slightly pornographic bent. And yet…
It’s so painful to watch. I don’t like the characters. I can’t relate to their whininess and complete inability to recognize their own projections. Part of me feels sorry for them, which contributes to the agony I feel when I watch Marnie and Hannah scream back and forth at each other that the other is a bad friend, etc., etc. But mostly my skin is crawling because they are an ugly combination of pathetic, unkind, and unreflective, which ultimately makes it difficult to empathize when they wreak havoc on their own lives. Which is precisely what they do.
Maybe it’s real. Maybe it’s a reflection of reality that I’m uncomfortable with because I recognize it. On the other hand, maybe it’s a reflection of a reality that isn’t accurate among my group of friends who are similarly 24-year-olds figuring out how to be adults in various cities around the world. Yes, it is sometimes tongue-in-cheek — like when Hannah declares that it’s unfair another girl’s boyfriend committed suicide in a horrific way because Hannah would actually like something similar to happen to her so that she can write about it and become famous. Unfortunately, it’s not tongue-in-cheek enough. Hannah is not self-aware enough or self-critical enough, no matter what she might claim.
And more unfortunately, though she is a mirror of some part of my generation, she is a carnival mirror that stretches and magnifies in a most unflattering way.
Sometimes a writer’s job is to capture truths and project them more clearly. Probably Lena Dunham is doing this and it is effectively making me uncomfortable. Kudos. But I also think she hasn’t quite grasped the truth and that the made-for-tv aspect of her work is undermining what would otherwise be an effective criticism of herself and her peers. If it were funnier, I would be more convinced that the script is self-aware, but the funniness of it usually escapes me. Except when I think “Wow that could have been really funny but it just made me feel so awkward.” That she stars in most of her own work puzzles me. Is it self-obsession? Is it a belief that her artwork would be ruined in the body of another actor? Is it a desire to break stereotypes about feminine insecurities? I want to know whether she actually identifies with the character she plays and how much of the life she inhabits is autobiographical because I have a creeping sensation that it is closer to her experience than we think and that maybe, just maybe, she realizes she was so deeply self-centered and self-destructive. Or maybe she doesn’t realize it and “Girls” is the excuse for being a jerk because, look! now she’s famous.
Anyway, the latter part is speculation. Having sat alongside the “types” that she is exaggerating, I think I get it. But who knows.
At the end of the day, Lena Dunham is still smart and talented. She’s still incredibly young and successful, and I’m still impressed if simultaneously disappointed.
I’m not watching anymore “Girls,” but I’ll watch out for whatever’s next.