Sharp Stick

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Sharp Stick
dir-scr Lena Dunham
prd Lena Dunham, Michael P Cohen, Kevin Turen, Katia Washington
with Kristine Froseth, Jon Bernthal, Lena Dunham, Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Luka Sabbat, Scott Speedman, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Liam Michel Saux, Janicza Bravo, Ben Sidell, Tommy Dorfman
release US Jan.22 sff,
UK Jun.22 slf
22/US 1h26

dunham paige leigh
sundance london film fest

Is it streaming?

bernthal, dunham, saux and froseth
After a 12-year break from filmmaking Lena Dunham is once again inventively challenging the way women are depicted on-screen. She cleverly spins a lightly fantastical tale about a young woman's coming of age that's so defiantly complex and thoughtful that it often feels shocking. But it shouldn't be, and that's the point. Packed with layered, frankly amazing characters, it's the kind of film that should start important conversations.
At 26, Sarah Jo (Froseth) has been raised in a protective bubble due to medical issues, which makes her the odd person out with her man-crazy mother Marilyn (Leigh) and influencer wannabe sister Treina (Paige). She works as a sitter with special-needs child Zach (Saux), whose parents Josh and Heather (Bernthal and Dunham) treat her as part of the family. But Sarah Jo wants to feel loved, and it doesn't take much to coax Josh into a sexual affair. She also becomes obsessed with porn star Vance (Speedman), reaching out to him for advice.
Sarah Jo's innocence often feels comical, but her inexperience and eager curiosity are intriguingly balanced as she flexes her power in a variety of ways. The narrative may centre on her sexual awakening, but she's actually chasing love. It's rare to see a movie in which women take such a positive dive into sex. There isn't a hint of moralising, and not a single cautionary warning. Dunham is boldly celebrating feminine sexuality in all its inscrutable diversity.

Each role is so multifaceted that it requires an unusually brave performance. Indeed, the characters are bracingly distinct, often seeming contradictory because movies are rarely this honest. This allows the actors to create bracingly original people who are mysterious and full-bodied, able to be funny, angry and sexy at the same time. Froseth is simply wonderful in the lead role, making Sarah Jo likably open-handed in each scene. The ensemble around her is first-rate, with Bernthal a stand-out as the kinetic, soulful Josh.

Because this film continually catches us off guard with its frank approach to its hot potato themes, we are able to go along with some of the story's more exaggerated aspects, mainly the question of how Sarah Jo has remained so hilariously square while growing up with two women who so openly embrace active sexuality. This makes it clear that Dunham is taking an artful approach to a topic most filmmakers are afraid to touch. And it also makes this film disarmingly vibrant and urgent.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 10.Jun.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall