Sharp Stick: Review
Sharp Stick Synopsis: Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth), a naive 26-year-old living on the fringes of Hollywood, begins an affair with her older employer (Jon Bernthal) and is thrust into an education on lust, loss and power.
Girls creator Lena Dunham takes her distinctive sensibilities to the big screen in her directorial debut Sharp Stick. My exposure to Girls is relatively limited, but I greatly respect Dunham’s creative approach. The writer/director never feels confined by contrived narrative devices, often embracing a more loose, naturalistic style that explores human sentiments with genuine insight.
Transitioning from the freeing perimeters of television to a theatrical feature poses some unique challenges for Dunham. With Sharp Stick, her knack for meandering yet reflective conversations and breezy plotting create some inconsistencies, but the film still elicits a humorous and uncomfortably honest journey.
Coming-of-age narratives are a dime a dozen – so much so that even adolescent films centered around sexual discovery could represent their own genre at this point (Yes, God, Yes and Pleasure mark a few recent examples). Instead of leaning upon familiar genre tenants, Dunham crafts a film that is as aimless and uncertain as her central protagonist.
Her choices will undoubtedly alienate some viewers. For me, embracing a more lackadaisical narrative is a fitting canvas for Sarah Jo – who juggles her fragmented home life and her even more dysfunctional affair with her boss. Amidst the chaos, Dunham frames Sharp Stick as an oddly affectionate journey of self-acceptance through the unlikely prism of sexual discovery. Both narrative arcs throw Sarah through the wringer of abandonment, toxicity and emotional trauma, but the character utilizes these road bumps as learning lessons in defining authorship over her life.
A cast constructed of assured performers also heightens the material’s free-form strengths. Star Kristine Froseth transforms Sarah Jo’s unassuming presence into a lively central protagonist – gradually uncorking the character’s naivety as she discovers her true identity. Likewise, Jon Bernthal forgoes his traditionally charismatic persona with winning results as Sarah Jo’s unfaithful boss. The actor lays on a thick bravado that cleverly masks the childless and raging insecurities underneath his shtick.
Sharp Stick boasts an undeniable charm even through its moments of uneven execution. While frames grounded around Sarah Jo resonate emotionally, Dunham deploys one too many subplots in a screenplay that does not give all of its characters purpose. The home sequences are particularly droning, straddling the talents of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Taylour Paige in uneventful roles as two vapid forces in Sarah Jo’s life. Ultimately, Sharp Stick volleys between moments of brilliance and frames that go nowhere in their talky antics.
Sharp Stick showcases the distinguished strengths and weaknesses of Dunham’s oeuvre. For me, it’s an odyssey worth losing yourself in due to its humorous and uniquely authentic qualities.