Starring Kristine Froseth, Jon Bernthal, Scott Speedman, Taylour Paige and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sharp Stick is the latest drama by Girls creator Lena Dunham.
26-year-old woman Sarah Jo (Froseth) is a shy, innocent-looking young woman who lives with her social media-obsessed sister Treina (Paige) and mum Marilyn (Leigh), and acts as a caregiver to young boy Zach. Intrigued about relationships, she boldly propositions Zach’s father Josh (Bernthal) and they strike up a passionate affair, during which Sarah Jo discovers the joy of sex.
Written and directed by Dunham, who also stars in the film as Josh’s heavily pregnant wife Heather, Sharp Stick plays a similar tune to Diary of a Teenage Girl, with a curious and inexperienced young woman embarking on a toxic relationship with an older attached man that ignites her sexual journey. Both films share themes of sexual identity and taboo relationships but Sharp Stick amps up the drama with problematic elements.
Played by her doe-eyed Froseth, Sarah Jo is the one who shamelessly approaches a married man as she feels that her hysterectomy has scarred her appearance, not to mention her attractiveness to men. Meanwhile, Josh is a sweet talker and tries to be a respectful, faithful husband but ultimately caves into temptation all too easily while laying the blame on the lack of sex on his hard-working wife. Sarah Jo’s home life isn’t exactly nurturing either – Treina is in an unclear relationship with an unseen man while five-time divorcee Marilyn seems to deter her daughters from relationships and the ‘scum’ of men. With both Treina and Marilyn wrapped up in influencers and their own issues, their demeanour plays to the dangers of excessive social media while their ignorance of Sarah Jo and her burgeoning sexual activities imply a toxic home life. Therefore, it is no surprise that they offer poor role models to Sarah Jo, causing her to turn to Josh and porn star Vance Leroy (Speedman), who opens her life to more than sex.
A lack of people to turn to causes the film to take a disturbing turn as Sarah Jo resorts to social media to fulfil her sexual needs, nay experience, which borders on a desperate need for personal satisfaction. Her ‘realisation’ feels more focused on the impersonal connection promoted through porn as it seems to feed her need to complete a thorough list of sexual acts without remaining detached. Sarah Jo’s change from the shy and caring young woman to the lust-filled seductress feels drastic and uncalled for but through Dunham’s charged screenplay, her actions show that her mind is too easily led astray by sentiment, as well as sex as a distraction from her insecurities.
Not even Sharp Stick‘s dreamy aesthetic cannot mask its problematic plot elements as they cloud the film’s concluding message of self-respect and empowerment, resulting in 86 minutes of confusion.
Director: Lena Dunham
Stars: Kristine Froseth, Jon Bernthal, Scott Speedman, Lena Dunham, Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Runtime: 86 minutes