“Sharp Stick” is here to beat the “inborn judgment and shame around female desire” out of a stigmatized culture.
So says writer, director, and star Lena Dunham, who helms her sophomore feature that debuted at Sundance this year. “Sharp Stick” centers on caregiver Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth), who strikes up an affair with her married boss Josh (Jon Bernthal). Yet when Josh returns to his wife Heath (Dunham), Sarah Jo is thrown into a tailspin of self-exploration and sexual healing. Watch the trailer for the film below.
“It’s a joke as old as celluloid that the minute we spot a sexually active girl in a horror movie, we know she’s going to die in a blood death,” Dunham said in a statement on the film. “She’s let someone touch her below the neck, and so she’s marked for murder. But there’s a more subtle crime we commit toward women on camera, where female characters who dare to take a journey sexually may not get full-on murdered, but they do endure another kind of torture — one more exquisite and subtle.”
Dunham continued, “It’s a torture of judgment, of questioning, of self-doubt and loneliness and regret over choices that should ultimately just be part of the fabric of self-actualization in that same way it can be for their male counterparts. Interrogating these cinematic iniquities, I began to imagine a character whose sexual journey would be totally unique, unmarred by shame or self-hate or the projections of others. She would use sex not to destroy her body but to heal it from a history of medicalized trauma and cultural projection.”
“Zola” breakout Taylour Paige stars in and co-produces the film, which also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Luka Sabbat, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Scott Speedman as a porn star. “Zola” director Janicza Bravo also has a cameo.
Lead star Bernthal, who recently made headlines for an Emmy-worthy performance in HBO’s “We Run This City,” is also portraying a male prostitute in the upcoming “American Gigolo” series.
“I do not believe that I possess any kind of natural sex appeal,” Bernthal said, despite being a sex symbol in “Sharp Stick” and “Gigolo.” “I’ve always looked at myself as this weird-looking guy.”
He added that taking on both romantic lead roles had “a real palpable sense of, ‘I’m the wrong guy for this. I can’t do it,'” which inspired him to “run headfirst toward the fear.”
Dunham is next writing, directing, and executive producing another coming-of-age (albeit, in a very different way) film, “Catherine, Called Birdy,” for Prime Video, adapted from Karen Cushman’s 1996 novel of the same name.
“Sharp Stick” premieres in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles July 29, followed by a nationwide rollout August 5. The film will be available to stream on digital platforms beginning August 16.