Entertainment

Lena Dunham’s Sharp Stick is slammed after Sundance premiere

Lena Dunham’s first film in over a decade has been roundly slammed by critics and viewers as they called for ‘less sex, more sense’.

Sharp Stick, which centres around a 26-year-old’s sexual awakening after her development was interrupted by a hysterectomy at age 17, premiered over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, and is the American director’s second movie after Tiny Furniture 12 years ago.

But any hope of The Girls co-creator’s comeback being a huge success has been dealt a serious blow by scathing reviews and social media verdicts published on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Guardian gave Sharp Stick a damning two-star review, labelling it a ‘misjudged experiment’, while Entertainment Weekly said: ‘Dunham stumbles with a strange, tone-deaf coming-of-age’.

Sharp Stick (pictured), which centres around a 26-year-old’s sexual awakening after her development was interrupted by a hysterectomy at age 17, premiered over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, and is the American director’s second movie after Tiny Furniture 12 years ago

Viewers were left equally unimpressed, with one writing on Twitter: ‘Sharp Stick was an unfunny and unendearing mix of weird and ridiculous that is just sad and a mess on so many levels.’

Another said: ‘I would really like to give Lena the benefit of the doubt, but this was just a loose collection of scenes and ideas, most of them unfinished or half-baked.’

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman noted: ‘Sharp Stick, in its quick verbal exchanges, its naked sexuality, its general air of busting taboos as if they were oversize balloons, is recognisably a Lena Dunham movie. 

‘But it’s the first one of her projects in which the parts don’t quite add up, because it seems as if what we’re watching hasn’t been so much created as contrived.’

Reaction: Viewers were left equally unimpressed, with one writing on Twitter: 'Sharp Stick was an unfunny and unendearing mix of weird and ridiculous that is just sad and a mess on so many levels.'

Reaction: Viewers were left equally unimpressed, with one writing on Twitter: ‘Sharp Stick was an unfunny and unendearing mix of weird and ridiculous that is just sad and a mess on so many levels.’

However, some social media users (above) suggested they liked the 'awkwardly adorable' film

However, some social media users (above) suggested they liked the ‘awkwardly adorable’ film

Critics also noted that one of the more confusing choices of the film was to centre the story on Sarah Jo (played by Kristine Froseth) who ‘says she’s 26 but seems to have a mental age much younger’, reported Entertainment Weekly.

Many reviewers suggested the character’s naivety around sex is too hard to believe considering the family she had around her – including a mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and sister (Taylour Paige) who often talk ‘gleefully and explicitly about men and how to get them’.

During the film, Sarah Jo asks her older, married boss Josh (Jon Bernthal) to take her virginity before heading on a journey of sexual awakening after their affair is discovered.  

Here, FEMAIL reveals a closer look at what the critics had to say…

THE GUARDIAN

Rating:

Adrian Horton writes: ‘This awkward, misjudged, occasionally sexy film has seeds of a radical, fresh story and flashes of directorial brilliance but is hobbled throughout by the confounding decision to write her 26-year-old main character as either insensitively neuro-divergent or more sheltered child than adult. 

‘…It’s dissatisfying and confusing; there’s a way to write a 26-year-old character who feels cleaved from her age, both too young and too old at once, without infantilizing her.

‘Perhaps the most frustrating part of watching Sharp Stick is seeing more promising, expansive storylines side-swipe this blundering one.’

VARIETY

Owen Gleiberman writes: ‘Sharp Stick, in its quick verbal exchanges, its naked sexuality, its general air of busting taboos as if they were oversize balloons, is recognisably a Lena Dunham movie.

‘But it’s the first one of her projects in which the parts don’t quite add up, because it seems as if what we’re watching hasn’t been so much created as contrived.

‘Dunham, at various points, seems to be asking: What if I made a movie about this? And this??!! And THIS??!! The answer is that she has made a movie in which you feel her desire to get a rise out of you more than you actually feel connected to anything onscreen.’

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

Leah Greenblatt writes: ‘From her 2011 feature debut Tiny Furniture on through six seasons of Girls, Lena Dunham famously became a voice of a generation by exploring ideas about young womanhood in ways that were maybe outrageous (at least at the time) and often divisive but rarely not interesting. 

‘It’s a lot harder to find a point of view, or even a point, in Sharp Stick.

‘… One of Stick’s more confounding choices is to centre the story on Sarah Jo who says she’s 26 but seems to have a mental age much younger.’

DEADLINE

Todd McCarthy writes: ‘Sarah Jo makes up for lost time. She starts writing to a porn star she particularly admires, praising his special talents. She creates long lists of variations she wants to try… and you can just imagine Dunham’s merriment increasing by the minute as she sends Sarah Jo out on her long-delayed sexual odyssey.

As amusing as it is, this latter stretch soon begins to feel a bit silly and indulgent; instead of settling into an at least marginally serious look at how adolescent sexual trauma has deeply messed with a young woman’s life, it feels more as though we’re at some Las Vegas convention dedicated to the latest in sex toys. 

‘Yes, we’re seeing and hearing stuff here we may never have seen in a mainstream film before, but it all begins to feel a bit outrageous just for outrageousness’ sake.’

NEW YORK POST

Johnny Oleksinski writes: ‘What ever happened to Lena Dunham?

‘Once a top talent, now she has written and directed a cinematic javelin to the head appropriately called Sharp Stick.

‘The Girls creator’s second movie after Tiny Furniture 12 years ago is hollow, amateurish provocation with phony characters and an off-putting plot.’ 

VULTURE 

Alison Willmore writes: ‘Sharp Stick lurches from element to element — the last act introduces a porn star played by Scott Speedman and an unflappable would-be suitor played by Luka Sabbat — which keeps it unpredictable, but also leaves it feeling like it’s just finding its footing when it ends. 

‘It has the air of a television-show fragment, and not just because its initial entanglement feels like the stuff of a pilot, something that has to be gotten out of the way to reach the actual premise. 

‘It’s also because it introduces characters who feel like they have storylines in the wings. ‘

SCREEN DAILY

Wendy Ide writes: ‘Dunham’s return to cinema with the frustratingly uneven Sharp Stick suggests that while she certainly hasn’t mellowed in terms of the confrontational material that she tackles, some of the perceptive sting has gone from her social commentary. 

‘Interest in Dunham and her work should ensure that the film enjoys a healthy festival life, but it may struggle to gain much traction elsewhere.

‘The main problem – a considerable issue which undermines much of the film – is the writing of the central character.’

COLLIDER 

Ross Bonaime writes: ‘Sharp Stick almost feels like it’s split into chapters, as if Dunham keeps shifting what she wants this film to be about, and even shifting who Sarah Jo actually is.

‘While Sarah Jo is 26, she reads as a much younger character, with her computer covered in stickers and her art project take on a sexual to-do list. 

‘When Sarah Jo reveals she’s in her mid-20s, it comes as a shock, because everything that Dunham has shown us up to this point certainly hasn’t led the audience to that conclusion.’


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