Sundance 2022: Sharp Stick Review

It’s baffling to see a script this obnoxious and tasteless. With Sharp Stick, a cast of actors tries its very best to make this narrative work, and writer/director Lena Dunham certainly tries to make her film’s personality shine through visual aesthetics, editing, and song choices. She has, after all, claimed on Twitter that the film is part of her goal to “create a free dialogue around the complexities of female sexuality.” It’s therefore so disappointing on a head-scratching level when Sharp Stick is more interested in showing us sexual acts than actually dissecting what it all means on a personal level.

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

Perhaps the challenge of the film selling its themes comes from its inability to sell its plausibility – at no point ever in this script does one believe Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth) is THAT naive. She lives comfortably in Los Angeles with her mother and sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Taylour Paige), happily eating away at her yogourt while listening to explicitly open stories about sexuality and getting men. Eventually, Sarah Jo pleads to Josh (Jon Bernthal), the father of the child she babysits, to take her virginity. Of course, Josh can’t resist. I mean, how can you resist a girl who looks like Kristine Froseth in knee socks? Mind you, Sarah Jo is 26 years old. The script, however, is more than happy to treat her as an innocent teenager waiting to have her cherry popped by a much older man.

This underlying grossness is further heightened by just plain implausibility. You can’t convince me that a 26-year old, who grew up in a sexually open household, would think that a blowjob means literally blowing air at a man’s penis.

Any quirky or funny moment that Dunham attempts to sell on screen fails to land. They raise eyebrows more than they raise laughs. The result is a handful of sex scenes between Sarah Jo and Josh, and although they are performed convincingly enough, it is all muddled by a narrative that is hard to get behind.

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And then it gets worse…

And then the second half comes (pardon the pun), and this is where Sharp Stick completely derails. Of course, with an affair like the one between Sarah Jo and Josh, it’s only a matter of time when they get caught and the “relationship” ends badly. With Josh’s pregnant wife (played by Dunham herself) discovering the affair the same time her water breaks, Sarah Jo is frantically kicked out of the house. Incredibly, her takeaway from the whole thing is that Josh ended their relationship because she’s not good enough in bed.

And so, fuelled by her recent discovery of porn, Sarah Jo embarks on a quest to experience every possible sex act with random male strangers, as she checks off item by item. If the script handled these plot points as a woman openly trying everything to discover pleasure for herself, that’s one thing. It’s another thing entirely when the main motivation behind all of this is for Sarah Jo to get back at Josh. It’s stupid, petty, and frankly, degrading. It ends up muddling whatever message Dunham attempts to explore.

The short end of the stick…

Despite an admirable effort by Froseth in the lead role and a fun performance by Bernthal as his scumbag character, there is very little to recommend with Sharp Stick. although I appreciate Dunham’s sensibilities behind the camera, her writing here is a big whiff. Half of the characters lack depth, as if a TikTok algorithm wrote their dialogue. Sarah Jo’s motivation is one with which I struggled to get on board.

It’s a shame because, conceptually, this type of story about female sexuality and self-respect should be celebrated and made more often. It’s just too bad Dunham’s delivery muddles everything.

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