‘Sharp Stick’ assessment: Lena Dunham returns with sexual comedy

Twelve years after her breakthrough 2010 indie darling “Tiny Furniture,” New York-born author, director, producer and actor Lena Dunham returns to function filmmaking with “Sharp Stick,” a equally intimate and susceptible coming-of-age intercourse comedy. Dunham’s latest follows Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth) a 26-year-old residence care aide dwelling on the perimeters of Hollywood along with her mom, Marilyn (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and sister Treina (Taylour Paige).

Sarah Jo’s household is women-centered and sexually open, with five-time divorcée Marilyn and adopted sister and flirtatious TikTok-er Treina usually shaping the household’s conversations on intercourse, males and desirability. Regardless of this, the younger lady is emotionally stunted on the subject of issues of intimacy; not solely does she look childlike in her look and self-fashioning (she wears prairie clothes, light-up sneakers, pinafores and modest ruffled nightgowns), however she can be uncertain and underdeveloped on the subject of navigating her personal sexuality.

That is why it’s all the extra outstanding when — hoping to lose her virginity — she enters right into a sexual relationship with Josh (Jon Bernthal), the loving father of her younger residence aide cost, Zach (Liam Michel Saux). Regardless of Josh’s superficial charms, it’s clear from the outset that he’s a perennial man-child. His pregnant spouse, Heather (Dunham), solely weeks from giving delivery, is the household’s breadwinner and leaves the house each morning in a gust of stress and anxiousness. Josh is seemingly unemployed and fast to shrug off Heather’s legitimate issues with the type of boyish appeal that’s totally irritating for anybody who has skilled it themselves however wholly alluring to the inexperienced Sarah Jo. He’s, in his personal phrases, “like … a loser.”

Dunham is deft in her attribute means to form a simple but complicated orbit for these three characters. The pleasure in watching Josh, Sarah Jo, and Heather onscreen comes not solely from Dunham’s expertise for writing and filming splendidly expansive moments of intimacy between Josh and Sarah Jo, but in addition in the best way she opens up area for all three of their inside lives to completely tangle and inevitably contradict and take care of each other. We’re capable of replicate on the ugly and uncomfortable in addition to the thrilling and romantic, the humorous and joyful in addition to the disheartening and shameful, with the understanding that one set of experiences can not materialize with out the opposite.

This types just one half of Dunham’s movie, nonetheless, with the second half of “Sharp Stick” devoting itself to Sarah Jo’s nearly semantic ambition to study and expertise extra of her sexuality as she continues to know it. Her self-education is frank and with out metaphor, and, in its earlier levels, formed by the world round her somewhat than by way of any form of autonomous sexual want. It’s in these later actions of the movie that Sarah Jo’s childlike characterization feels most disconcerting.

The infantilization of Sarah Jo isn’t absolutely developed inside “Sharp Stick”; she exists as she is and — exterior of the movie’s welcome tonal and thematic parts — we’re by no means absolutely positive why. There is no such thing as a historical past to this actuality, solely a gift and, in some ways, Sarah Jo’s character is coded as neurodivergent (though Dunham has been fast to refute this) in a means that additional problematizes this lack. Alongside this lives the positioning of her sexuality compared to sister Treina, which carries with it worrying racial implications that really feel wholly unacknowledged by the movie. There may be definitely a white imaginary at work right here, even when Dunham can not see it for herself.

These points don’t exist exterior the movie however really feel innate to the patterning of “Sharp Stick” as an entire. The movie itself feels as if it has emerged absolutely fashioned from the thoughts of its writer, for higher and for worse. It’s a examine of girls’s sexuality, want and autonomy that succeeds simply as a lot because it stumbles, a technique of feminist storytelling that privileges the pursuit of want over an evenness of narrative. It cares not for the customary, however as a substitute for the messiness of actual life, which right here is inextricable from its personal means. Above all, it speaks to the best way that Dunham has continued to craft work that exists as many issues — complicated or naive, angering or pleasurable — out of kernels of her personal expertise.

‘Sharp Stick’

Rated: R, for robust sexual content material, some nudity, language all through and drug use

Operating time: 1 hour 26 minutes

Enjoying: Begins July 29, Landmark Nuart; out there Aug. 16 on digital and VOD