Movie Review: Lost in Lena Dunhamland with a “Sharp Stick”

“Sharp Stick, the second feature film from writer, director and TV series creator (or adapter) Lena Dunham, takes her back to her era-encapsulating TV series “Girls.” It’s a movie about media and modern sexuality, the gig economy, family and a “community,” and the mores in this insular world she creates.

It’s kind of slapdash and all over the place — again, like “Girls” — introducing interesting characters and losing track of them, focusing on the most sexually promiscuous/adventurous young woman in the lot. It doesn’t really hold together or earn its “My point, and I do have one” scene.

But it’s of its moment if for no other reason than it presents the first “abortion (baby) shower” the cinema has every produced. Yeah, Ms. Millennial knows how to get attention and throw a little shock in with her branded version of sexual adventurism.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is the five-times-married landlady of a dumpy apartment complex, a mother of two and a high-mileage LA libertine who wears her appearance in “two Duran Duran videos” like a badge of honor.

Bombshell daughter Treina (Taylour Paige of “Lola”) is an on-the-make Instagram personality, a young woman who poses for attention and income, one given to “crushes” that lock her in “d–k prison” to this or that man, much to her mother’s disapproval.

“There’s always another one,” has been the message of Mom’s life, Treina tells her sister Sarah Jo (Kristine Forseth of “The Assistant” and TV’s “Looking for Alaska”). It’s how Treina “gets over” each man who lets her down.

Sarah Jo could use the advice, because this special needs caregiver is 26 and the opposite of every other woman in her family. Sarah Jo is a virgin, naive to the point of “on the spectrum,” and discovering lust…for the father of a boy with Downs she babysits each day.

Josh (Jon Bernthal) is very married because wife Heather (Dunham) is very pregnant. But she’s the breadwinner, a real estate agent. He’s the upbeat, childish, would-be rapper and 40ish house-husband not-quite-caregiver to their son, who has Sarah Jo around during the day, after all.

Inexperienced Sarah Jo decides she wants experience, and Josh is the man to provide it. And after paying some lip service to “I can’t,” he can. An affair begins, an introduction to porn follows, and Sarah Jo is off on her own version of Aubrey Plaza’s “The To Do List.” Sarah wants to experience everything the sexual world has to offer, stuff she knows thanks to her crush on a porn star whose work Josh has introduced her to.

Dunham lets this rhymes-with-bucket “list” take over her slight, episodic and frankly dull little movie. And aside from lovely, sweet and amusing work from Scott Speedman — as porn star Vance — there’s not much to recommend it.

Sarah Jo doesn’t “grow” or “learn” much other than how empty this pursuit and her following her mother in it is. Mom, given a decent “your origin stories” scene (explicit, crude accounts of how each daughter came to be), all but dies of neglect. And even her character is better off than what happens to Treina.

The “power of ritual” scene, that party for a baby that a pregnant daughter has elected to “not complete,” decorated and documented for Instagram, says more about “casual” clumsiness and the complete abandonment of privacy than “choice.” It might have been Dunham’s Big Statement in her latest Millennials in their Moment movie, if only she’d had one to make.

Running time: R for strong sexual content, some nudity, language throughout and drug use.

Cast: Kristine Forseth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Taylour Paige, Jon Bernthal, Scott Speedman, Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Lena Dunham

Credits: Scripted and directed by Lena Dunham. A FilmNation release.

Running time: 1:36

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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