Multi-talent Lena Dunham is back into the realm of filmmaking after 11 years since her feature-film debut Tiny Furniture. For her latest film Sharp Stick, she writes, directs and appears in a supporting role in a story that invites discussion about sexual freedom, depiction and perceptions via gender, media, hypocrisy and empowerment. While the film lacks discipline in its storytelling – particularly in the arc regarding its lead character – there are enough moments of amusing frivolity, endearing weirdness and emotional truth to make it a worthwhile endeavour.
Kristine Froseth is absolutely game to what is a difficult role to ground to reality. She has to remain naïve and weary as well as impervious to the world of sexuality that she ventures in due to an early hysterectomy. Froseth does a good job in expressing the wonder, the allure, the world-weariness and the gradual empowerment of Sarah Jo. While her motives in the film are hard to decipher at times — mostly due to this reviewer’s gender as well as references to the character of Sarah Jo being neurodivergent – her work shines through.
The performances from its cast make the most out of the inconsistent script. Taylour Paige as Treina remains as sharp as ever as she was in her debut role in Zola while Jennifer Jason Leigh is wonderfully flighty as the mother of Sarah Jo and Treina. Jon Bernthal is both energetic and pathetic in the role of Josh, who is the love interest and flirtation device for Sarah Jo while Dunham herself is refreshingly moody as the heavily pregnant wife of Josh, who is unsuspecting of the dalliances between the two.
The film also provides a look into the effects of media via pornography but it feels a bit disingenuous in regards to the harmful effects of it. However, the movie can be seen as more of a fantasy of wish-fulfillment to sex positivity as opposed to being an incisive commentary – the film features animated interludes of whimsy as Sarah Jo discovers herself through her many dalliances. And to top it off, Scott Speedman appears in a wonderful extended cameo as a popular porn star who provides the credo of the film much to Sarah Jo’s delight.
Overall, Sharp Stick is a scrappy yet undeniably provocative return to filmmaking for Dunham that provides a striking look into an issue that happens all around us and yet is rarely talked about.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Sharp Stick screened as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is being presented virtually between January 20th and 30th, 2022. For more information head to the official Sundance page.