Lena Dunham Returns to Feature Filmmaking for an Awkward tale of Sexual Exploration 



Sarah Jo is gutted- perhaps in more ways than one.  For the first time in her twenty-six years, she’s found herself in an intimate relationship… and it can’t last.  But that is so often the way when a babysitter finds herself in bed repeatedly with the married man of the house.  Too bad she arrives to this situation with no such understanding.  Indeed, Girls creator and star has returned to feature filmmaking to warp and skewer this familiar premise.  In ninety-two minutes and in quite economical fashion, she does so from the point of view of her highly unusual female lead.

The married man in question, Josh (Jon Bernthal with Emo Philips hair), is an attractive, charming, outgoing homebody.  He does about forty seconds of due diligence in actively resisting Sarah Jo’s aggressively blunt come ons before caving into her in front of the washing machine.  Day after day, she’s been at the house watching over Josh and Heather’s special needs son, Zach (portrayed by Liam Michel Saux; Heather is played by the film’s writer/director Lena Dunham).  And day after day, she’s witnessed Josh rapping his way around the kitchen, generally being a perpetually performative hyper-presence.  The more boisterous he is, the smaller everyone else is.  If not for his obvious age, one could forgive the viewer for not realizing that he’s the dad in this scenario.

What doesn’t wash nearly as easily is the dense- and I mean dense!– naivety of Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth, solidly committed to this odd duck character).  Outside of some sort of mental condition that perhaps I missed being explained, it simply makes no believable sense that a young woman living in California today with a very sexually forthright mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and social media star sister (Taylour Paige) would not have any knowledge of or familiarity with any common sex acts or pornography.  It’s not unfortunate or fortunate; it’s just weird.  

What’s not weird is that Sarah Jo would be a virgin at age twenty-six.  There’s zero shame in being a virgin at any age, but in her mind, the time has come to gain “experience”.  She reveals that due to a personal health crisis, she had a radical hysterectomy at age fifteen resulting in a wildly premature menopause and a network of visible scars on her abdomen.  That pretty much shut her down for a long while.  But now, for whatever reason, she’s decided that Josh is the only guy for her self-prescribed deflowering.

Clinical lovemaking leads to more, with Sarah Jo becoming quite keen on this sex stuff.  Once Josh turns her onto to porn, she deep-dives, making a huge, expansive alphabetical chart of things to try.  Clearing the entire chart becomes her obsession, even as particularly out-there acts reside on her list alongside everyday ones.  Josh doesn’t last in her life, but the mission continues.  Somehow, this film is intended to be a comedy.  None of it struck me as remotely funny.  Just… weird.  

Sharp Stick didn’t offend me, nor did it repel me.  Dunham’s screenplay is odd and her direction, while fine, definitely matches.  The second half is more effective than the first, perhaps because by then we’re committed regardless of how it got us there.  It’s an interesting film about the world’s most cartoonishly dense late bloomer playing catch-up, which makes for a watchable premise, but not, not, not a satisfying sex comedy.  On the blocking front, though the copious amounts of sex are portrayed quite overtly, for whatever it’s worth, no actual nudity was noticed.

The barebones DVD release of Sharp Stick from Decal and Neon looks fine for the format, though in this day and age one wonders who’d prefer to experience this 2022 film in standard definition.  Without any bonus features to sweeten the deal, this release is a hard one to recommend to anyone aside from existing fans of Dunham or maybe Bernthal.  In any case, it still beats a poke with its namesake.