'Girls' is a Knockout

Marisa Carroll

In Girls, Lena Dunham captures the messy textures and rhythms of everyday life. She also reminds us of her terrific ear for dialogue.


Director: Lena Dunham
Regular airtime: Sundays, 10:30pm ET
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: HBO
Cast: Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Allison Williams, Zosia Mamet
Air dates: 2012-04-14

A fan of Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, I was excited to hear of her deal with HBO to develop a series about four 20something friends navigating the sexual, social, and financial perils of New York. Now, having seen the first three episodes of Girls, I can't wait to see the next seven. With its precisely drawn characters, winning performances, and frank, well-observed humor, Girls is a knockout.

When the series begins, Hannah (played by the show's creator and director Lea Dunham) is at dinner with her visiting parents (Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari), who have just dropped a bomb: they will no longer be supporting her. After two years of paying Hannah’s rent, insurance, and cell phone bill so she can finish her memoir, "Midnight Snack" (it’s a working title), and intern at a publishing house for no pay, they are making “one final push” to send her from the nest into the real world.

At first, Hannah is nonplussed, insisting, “But I’m your only child. It’s not like I’m draining your resources.” But she quickly realizes that even if her father is sympathetic, her mother won’t budge. To perform her resilience, Hannah cancels plans to see them the next day. With spoiled self-importance, she spits out her excuse: “First I have work, then I have a dinner thing, and then I am busy trying to become who I am!”

She retreats to the apartment she shares with her best friend, Marnie (Allison Williams), a pretty art gallerina who is supremely confident in her belief that she knows what is best for everyone else. Here she also shares her woes with her sometime booty call, Adam (Adam Driver), the playwright/carpenter who treats Hannah’s heart “like monkey meat.” He seems to like her funny belly, though, which he jiggles to make himself laugh.

In their interactions and others, Dunham captures the messy textures and rhythms of everyday life. She also reminds us of her terrific ear for dialogue, be it the backhanded compliment (“Oh, you were never fat: you were soft and round, like a dumpling”), self-entitled blather (as when Hannah admonishes her parents, “I could be a drug addict! Do you realize how lucky you are?”), or the absurdly inappropriate (at a gallery opening, the owner purrs to her assistant, “Julian, be a lamb and grab my tit tape”).

Some critics have complained that the representation of sex in Girls is bleak, but as a friend of mine once remarked, until a person is mature enough to be intimate with another person, he or she tends to “have sex at their partners instead of with them.” The sex scenes in Girls illustrate this idea well. Hannah and her friends -- the virginal Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and the effortlessly cool globetrotter Jessa (Jemima Kirke) -- are old enough to want to take responsibility for their sexuality (Hannah insists on using condoms), but still young enough to want to appear “totally cool with” whatever is asked of them. As they're dealing with a pool of guys who grew up with untrammeled access to Internet porn, well, the requests can take a perverse turn rather quickly.

The sex scene between Hannah and Adam that begins the second episode is a farce -- hilarious and mortifying on all counts. His tapestry of dirty talk is too explicit to detail here, but the capper to their conversation is killer, not only because it’s laugh-out-loud funny, but also because it reveals so much about their competing investments in this tryst. Adam tells Hannah that she’s not allowed to orgasm without his permission, whether he’s with her or home masturbating. “If you think you’re going to come, you better call me first!” he demands. She replies, her voice cracking with barely suppressed hope, “You want me to call you?” Oh, Hannah, my precious dumpling: run!

Of course, her problem is familiar, the one that can drive typically sane people crazy: an uncommitted partner who pays you just enough attention to keep you hoping and trying for more. The show reveals repeatedly the tantalizing and toxic effects of this mind-fuck (heart-fuck?). Even the levelheaded Marnie, who has a lovely, caring boyfriend, isn’t immune to the “charms” of unavailable, swaggering men. At a gallery opening, a hot young artist flirts with her, and although she is intoxicated by his attention, she demurs at the possibility of the two of them kissing. But then he sidles up to her and whispers, “Okay, but the first time I fuck you, I might scare you a little, because I’m a man, and I know how to do things.” Soon she is running off to lock herself in a room at the gallery to masturbate. Oh, Marnie! This won't end well.

The characters of Girls might not always do what is in their best interests, and they can flake out of their responsibilities, to be sure. But they often try to do the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable. When Hannah has an STD scare in the third episode, Shoshanna is initially casual about it (“Jessa says that ‘all adventurous women [have HPV]’”). But she still urges Hannah to contact her ex-boyfriend, Elijah (Andrew Rannells), in case she caught it from him. “You have to tell him," Shoshanna says, "Do you want all his future lovers to suffer from the same disease that you do? No offense.”

Hannah agrees and arranges a date with Elijah. Their discussion starts out convivial and civilized but soon degenerates after Elijah reveals a secret of his own. Upon hearing the news, Hannah bursts into tears, and then attempts to explain her intense emotional response: “What I am having is an inappropriate physical reaction to my joy for you” (a line that was written to be stolen and used in case of emergency). When her “joy” eventually gives way to rage, her first impulse is to take her case to the Twitterverse, planning to spread information about Elijah that's not really hers to share. But she hesitates, and a glimmer of redemption is born. Instead, Hannah decides to speak for herself and “adventurous women” everywhere.

After a night like that, other girls might have crawled into bed and pulled the blankets over their heads. But not Hannah. She turns up the music on her laptop and shakes what her mama gave her. And once Marnie returns home, it becomes a joyous dance party of two. Maybe these girls will make it after all. I'll definitely keep tuning in to find out.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.