SHARP STICK (Sundance FF 2022) – Review by Lauren Anderson

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After a decade away from feature films, Lena Dunham return to the Sundance Film Festival in 2022 with Sharp Stick, a witty sex comedy that explores coming-of-age through female sexuality. Starring Dunham, Kristine Froseth, Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jon Bernthal, and Luka Sabbat, Sharp Stick is the story of a 26-year-old woman’s desire to explore sex in the most grandiose and bizarre way.

Sarah Jo (Froseth) is a virgin with a childlike sense of wonder. Her days consist of helping her landlord mother (Jason Leigh), filming her influencer sister (Paige), and looking after Zach (Liam Michel Saux), the child of Heather (Dunham), and seemingly devoted father Josh (Bernthal). After hearing her mother and sister detail their sexual exploits, Sarah Jo concludes if someone finds her truly beautiful, they’re worthy of taking her virginity. In Sarah Jo’s eyes, there’s no one she’d rather have sex with for the first time than Josh, what with his dedication to his family and all.

So, Sarah Jo musters up the courage to share her scars from the radical hysterectomy she had when she was 15-years-old (Dunham had a hysterectomy in 2018) with Josh, who hasn’t had sex with his wife in months. Focused on expanding her knowledge of love and sex, Sarah Jo conveniently ignores the impact sleeping with Josh will have on her job, his marriage to Heather, and Zach. What starts as a romp on the laundry room floor quickly turns into a sexy weekend getaway where Josh teaches Sarah Jo everything he knows about pleasing a woman.

Sarah Jo’s exploration of sex expands when Josh shows her porn for the first time. Later, she sifts through the countless types of porn to find out what speaks to her, which happens to be Scott Speedman’s sensitive, tattooed porn star Vance, who looks into the camera and says the sweet nothings Sarah Jo longs to hear. Eventually, Sarah Jo and Josh’s tryst ends, and she learns this isn’t the first time Josh has done this to Heather. Uncovering who Josh really is becomes the catalyst that leads Sarah Jo to create a sex to-do list with an alphabetized list of things to try. As she works through her list, Sarah Jo subconsciously considers her sexual ability through the lens of her exploits with Josh.

In the end, porn filmmaker Arvin (Sabbat) and his porn star colleague Vance become Sarah Jo’s saving grace. After receiving a letter detailing her heartbreak, Vance reminds Sarah Jo there’s no wrong way to achieve sexual pleasure. As Dunham explained during the Q&A panel post-premiere, the title was inspired by a turn of phrase doctors in the UK use. “Before they give you a shot or take your blood, they’ll say, ‘This is just going to be a sharp scratch, or a sharp poke, or a sharp stick.” It’s a way to sort of comfort you.” The phrase “sharp stick” comes up in a monologue delivered by Sarah Jo near the end of the film as she’s empowered to embrace her sexuality instead of working to fit it into how other people define it. “[The monologue is about] trying to predict pain before it comes to dull the effects of it,” Dunham added.

Sharp Stick is a hilarious and engaging return to the screen for the Girls creator. Much like the HBO series did during its six-season run, Sharp Stick demonstrates growth and change through some of the oddest occurrences.

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Lauren Anderson (Archived Contributor)

Lauren Anderson is a Staff Writer at Showbiz Cheat Sheet covering TV, film, and celebrity news. She is the site's resident Jersey Shore: Family Vacation expert, but also covers The Office, Dancing With the Stars, Outer Banks, Selling Sunset, Emily in Paris, and Floribama Shore extensively. Lauren is a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Society of Professional Journalists, and International Association of Professional Writers & Editors. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Entertainment & Arts Management from Drexel University and began writing about entertainment in 2015, joining Showbiz Cheat Sheet in 2020.