Lena Dunham’s heinous ‘Sharp Stick’ is a career worst

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” that premiered over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival.

The “Girls” creator’s second movie after “Tiny Furniture” 12 years ago is hollow, amateurish provocation with phony characters and an off-putting plot. Nonetheless, in a post-screening Q&A, Dunham ran down its many high-minded inspirations. 

She said she wanted to “give porn its due as something that can be really healing.” And, as a woman who can’t have biological children due to a hysterectomy, Dunham, 35, wished to tell a story about “what it means to make your own family and design your own family and how that’s just as meaningful.” 

Yes, it is. But does that beautiful message come during the scene when the 26-year-old main character Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth) scrawls an A-to-Z list of sex acts on colorful construction paper that she’d like to try out with randos? Or when her mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) gives a vocab lesson on a crude nickname for the male anatomy?

Lena Dunham returns to directing movies for the first time in 12 years.
Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Sarah Jo’s sister Treina (Taylour Paige) is adopted, true, but the world is already in universal agreement that adoption is a great thing to do. This is not some ingenious Dunham revelation. 

As for the lead, unless you’re directing a reboot of “Strawberry Shortcake,” your real-world, live-action main character should not behave like a two-dimensional, smiley, brainwashed cultist. Sarah Jo is as annoying as the Mister Softee truck and sticks around for just as long. She’s laughably naive and sweet and the explanation for her strangeness strains credulity.

Sarah Jo had a radical hysterectomy at a young age and, according to Dunham, that experience shaped her happy hermit personality. 

So, even though she is nearly 30 in Los Angeles and lives with her hippie mom who puts ice cubes in chardonnay as she regales her daughters with stories of her own past sexcapades, Sarah Jo acts like she barely knows what sex is. Come on. 

Feeling left out and unwanted because of her surgery scars, she decides to awkwardly seduce the hyperactive older father of a special needs child she takes care of. Sarah Jo and Josh (Jon Bernthal) begin a fumbling affair (Dunham, a tad stiff, plays his pregnant wife). And then he introduces his young employee to porn, which — even though she owns a laptop and helps her sister film TikTok dances — she is also blithely unaware of.

Lena Dunham appears in her movie "Sharp Stick" as a pregnant mother.
Lena Dunham appears in her movie “Sharp Stick” as a pregnant mother.
Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Meet the one adult woman who’s never seen a pop-up ad!  

Things are already pretty weird, but the film turns ridiculous when Sarah Jo becomes obsessed with a feminist male porn star (Scott Speedman), who nobly tells the naked women in his scenes that he “respects” them and how “strong” they are. Then, she downloads dating apps and tries to hook up with as many men as possible.

“Sharp Stick” is meant to be a very funny coming-of-age tale, but we rarely laugh because we don’t believe a nanosecond of it.

“Girls,” like it or not, was a defining TV show for an entire generation, and certainly the last half-hour comedy until “And Just Like That” to regularly become a talker the next morning. The series was hilarious because it was real. Everybody knows a Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, Shoshana and Adam. Sarah Jo, on the other hand, is pure, ridiculous fiction in service of Dunham’s wild theses.

Dunham, it seems, has fallen harder for courting controversy these days than telling the honest stories that made her famous in the first place.