Sharp Stick, 2022.
Written and Directed by Lena Dunham.
Starring Kristine Froseth, Jon Bernthal, Luka Sabbat, Scott Speedman, Lena Dunham, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Liam Michel Saux, Janicza Bravo, and Ben Sidell.
Sarah Jo is a naive 26-year-old living on the fringes of Hollywood with her mother and sister. She just longs to be seen. When she begins an affair with her older employer, she is thrust into education on sexuality, loss, and power.
Whether one likes controversial writer and director Lena Dunham, her acclaimed works have expressed an enlightening and forward-thinking understanding of sexuality, so it’s a surprise that her return to narrative filmmaking with Sharp Stick (you only get one guess what that is a euphemism for) eventually breaks down into a been there done that formulaic sexual awakening of trying out every act and position possible for comedic effect.
Sarah Jo (an outstanding Kristine Froseth walking the tightrope between selfishness and empathy) is a caretaker for special needs people. She’s also a 26-year-old virgin, not just due to social awkwardness but a scarred stomach due to a hysterectomy that she is understandably self-conscious about. As one would imagine, she’s also incredibly horny, doubly so considering her family consisting of a sex-positive hippie mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and aspiring model half-sister Traina (Taylour Paige). Work places her in the company of Josh (Jon Bernthal wildly cast against type), a family man seemingly committed to his wife Heather (Lena Dunham), sometimes left alone together.
While free from her caregiving duties, Sarah Jo flirts with Josh without a care in the world of wrecking the family dynamic. She wants to get laid, and she is attracted to Josh. He initially resists her seduction before caving in typically hilarious ways that come across like a bull’s-eye in portraying how a man’s dick sometimes wins out over his heart and brain. Neither of these characters is necessarily likable, but the affair they find themselves in is certainly engaging as Josh teaches Sarah Jo everything he knows about sex.
The issue is that everything else surrounding Sharp Stick doesn’t land; nearly everything about Sarah Jo’s home life is insufferable to be around, lacking any semblance of depth beyond juxtaposing her with a more sexually open family. There is probably a stronger movie in omitting their obnoxious presence entirely. None of that is enough to sink the film, mind you. That’s what the third act is for, which takes Sarah Jo’s character in a different direction, learning and studying porn.
Now, I can buy into a 26-year-old woman being sexually inexperienced, but not knowing a single thing about online porn videos is where the cracks to this story begin to show, especially since her home life shows that sexual stories consistently surround her. A greater disconnect is caused when Sarah Jo starts writing letters to a hulking porn star with minor visible scars that help boost her self-esteem. Not only is it the strangest subplot, but anything resembling porn is shown in the most bafflingly positive and friendliest light. Depicting the adult entertainment industry with class is one thing, but it’s so over-the-top here it’s jarring. Additionally, the story falls into repetitive trappings of Sarah Jo crossing off different kinks and positions off her list in quirky scenarios that are supposed to be amusing, which countless movies have already done in the past decade (I’m also deeply concerned that necrophilia is on her to-do list).
The shift into this third act is also incredibly wonky, giving Sarah Jo a monologue that’s meant to absolve her and justify her selfish actions with the script sweeping it under the rug so that we can get in her corner throughout the rest of her sexual awakening. The story wants to reposition her alignment in the laziest form imaginable. There’s also something rubbing me the wrong way that Sarah Jo’s job is taking care of special needs clients, as if we are supposed to give her character second and third chances just because she’s great with the disabled whenever she’s not distracted by sex. Sharp Stick is a disappointing mess whenever Kristine Froseth and Jon Bernthal aren’t lighting up the screen. It’s not sharp enough to penetrate anything remotely near thoughtful conversation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com