Topics of family, sexuality, and womanhood power filmmaker Lena Dunham’s cinema verité drama ‘Sharp Stick.’
In the fantastic female drama Sharp Stick, debuting in the Premieres section of Sundance Film Festival 2022, twenty-six-year-old Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth) uses colored cardboard paper and markers to decorate her bedroom with wall-sized checklists. Sarah Jo’s lists identify the sexual acts she wants to try. Her recent affair with a married man named Josh (Jon Bernthal) is unsatisfying. Sarah Jo’s mom, Marilyn (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and sister, Treina (Taylour Paige), are busy with Treina’s efforts working as a paid influencer. Ignited by newfound fandom for veteran porn star Vance Leroy (Scott Speedman), Sarah Jo sets out on an independent journey of womanhood and sexuality.
Actress and filmmaker Lena Dunham may reference director Luis Bunuel’s 1967 film Belle de Jour in a festival Q&A panel. Still, Sharp Stick is cinematic kin to another Sundance storyteller, Todd Solondz, the director of art-house classics like Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse.
Sharp Stick is a Sundance movie in the best sense. Like Solondz, Dunham skillfully balances naturalistic performances and cinema verité styles with compelling melodrama involving adult desires and needs. Dunham takes good storytelling risks involving adult themes.
Character actor Jon Bernthal displays a new emotional range as Josh, a man child who mistreats his wife (Lena Dunham) and Sarah Jo. The consistently excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh makes the most of her scenes as Sarah Jo’s disconnected mother. Taylour Paige delivers some welcome laughs as Sarah Jo’s social media-fixated sister.
The slightly fractured but strong heart and soul of Sharp Stick belong to emerging actress Kristine Froseth. She delivers a standout performance as Sarah Jo, a caring young woman committed to moving past a traumatic surgery to embrace her body and sexual curiosity. By the film’s closing credits, you know that there’s no character Froseth can’t deliver as an actress.
There’s a lot of chatter about the 12-year gap between Dunham’s debut movie Tiny Furniture and Sharp Stick. My take is that movie masterworks are worth the wait.
Director: Lena Dunham
Cast: Kristine Froseth, Jon Bernthal, Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Scott Speedman
Production Company: FilmNation Entertainment and Good Thing Going
Release Date: TBD
Behind the Curtain: At a festival Q&A, filmmaker Lena Dunham refers to actress Gena Rowlands and Luis Bunuel’s 1967 film Belle de Jour as inspirations for Sharp Stick. She also emphasizes her love for filmmaking.
“I never left feature filmmaking. It has always been my first love.” – Lena Dunham, Director, Sharp Stick.