In Sharp Stick, Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth) may be 26-years old but her sexual inexperience plagues her mind. Living at home with her mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her sister, Treina (Taylour Paige), Sarah Jo has been raised in a home that has honest conversations about sexuality that many families are unwilling to have. However, this also leaves Sarah Jo feeling as though she’s missing out. When she begins an intense affair with the father of the child that she cares for (Jon Bernthal), Sarah Jo begins a personal awakening. But when the relationship begins to unravel, she also begins a heart-breaking emotional journey as she attempts to course correct her inexperience in the bedroom.
Led by a brave performance by Froseth, Sharp Stick is an unflinching portrait of modern sexuality and the pressure that we put on ourselves because of it. While the term ‘coming-of-age tale’ feels cliché, it is also an accurate description. Growing up in a family that speaks openly about sexuality, Sarah Jo believes that she has been missing out on an integral part of life. As a result, Sarah Jo attempts to mold herself into what she believes is every man’s desire. From watching pornography to becoming open to all types of sexual activity, Sarah Jo sees these opportunities as research into the male psyche.
She believes that her romantic failures are due to her inexperience… and she is determined to change that.
Sharp Stick is incredibly open and honest with its conversations about sexuality yet somehow never feels exploitative. Despite its multiple bedroom scenes, there is no graphic nudity of which to speak of. As a result, despite its openness about sex, the film never becomes exploitative. Written and directed by Lena Dunham (Girls), Stick is willing to address topics that few others are willing to engage in a mature manner. From sexual shame and loneliness to the notion of changing ourselves to impress others, the film unpacks the complexities of relationships and how to deal with toxic sexual ideas.
In some ways, it could be alternatively titled Sex and Sensibility.
What’s more, the film shows its strength in the way that it speaks about the need for intimacy as opposed to frequency in our sexual exploits. Without giving any spoilers, Sarah Jo attempts to learn as much as she can about various positions and experiences because she believes that she is somehow inadequate for her lover. For her, these are growing experiences.
But for the viewer, it is a period of sadness.
With each hookup and lover, Sarah Jo’s journey towards empowerment seems to have the opposite effect. While she may be bolder in the bedroom, she also becomes much more emotionally isolated. Even though she can check things off her (literal) board, there is something missing. In this way, Sharp Stick does an excellent job highlighting the importance of intimacy and connecting with one’s partner. Here, Dunham reminds the viewer that there is mutual trust and humility that is present within the healthiest of romances. Whereas most films choose to glorify the candlelit rooms and rose-covered bedsheets, Stick understands that sexuality is much more than a physical act.
It’s a connection of souls.
In the end, Sharp Stick may be a film that feels intense in its encounters yet it also becomes an important film in many regards. Dunham has always fought to empower women in their sexuality and she uses Stick to help stir up dialogue that few others are willing to have.
Sharp Stick is currently available at FantasiaFest 2022. For information, click here. It will also available on VOD/Digital on August 16th.