January 25, 2022

ShowbuzzDaily Sundance 2022 Reviews: “Sharp Stick” & “Babysitter”


SHARP STICK (no distrib):  Lena Dunham is certainly no stranger to the concept of art as provocation, but it’s difficult to understand what Sharp Stick, her first feature film in a dozen years, and her first solo venture since Girls, is even seeking to provoke.  It centers on Sara Jo (Kristine Froseth), a bubbly 26-year old professional caregiver living with a mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and sister (Taylour Paige) who are sexually active and talkative about the subject, and who has apparently gone through the LA public education system and has free access to the internet, yet is not merely a virgin but one whose ignorance about anything to do with the acts themselves, as for example the very existence of pornography, would make the most pious Amish seem debauched.  Once she samples sex via a brief affair with her stay-at-home dad employer (Jon Bernthal), she throws herself into a literal checklist of the most extreme acts she can find online.  What are we to make of this character, who lives in the real world but resembles Kimmy Schmidt without the backstory?  It feels almost as though Dunham avoided defining Sara Jo’s state of consciousness because doing so would make things so queasy that it would risk her movie being canceled.  Then there’s the psychodrama of Dunham having given Sara Jo a radical hysterectomy for medical reasons, such as the one the filmmaker herself has very publicly had, while she casts herself as a woman about to give birth.  There’s not much in Sharp Stick to take one’s mind off the puzzlements.  Leigh and Paige develop a comic rhythm in their scenes together, and Luke Sabbat contributes an easygoing turn as a sympathetic porn PA.  Mostly, though, Sharp Stick leans into being weird without any organizing principle.  That makes it hard to judge Froseth’s perpetual perkiness, or Scott Speedman playing a pornstar as though he’s delivering TED talks.  When we find out the explanation for the title in the course of Sharp Stick, it refers to the warning a nurse gives to patients about what they’ll feel when a shot is administered.  But it’s hard not to think of the more familiar use ot the term, and to wonder whether sitting through Dunham’s movie is really any better than being poked in the eye with one.

BABYSITTER (no distrib):  A toothless Canadian satire of cancel culture that devolves into an old-time farce about every member of a household lusting after the luscious new nanny, before reaching incomprehensibility in its final stage.  Monia Chokri’s film, written by Catherine Leger (based on her play) begins with Cedric (Patric Hivon), drunk at a boxing match, lurching into frame on a live TV broadcast to force a kiss on the female sportscaster.  When video of the incident goes viral, partly due to Cedric’s self-righteous reporter brother Jean-Michel (Steve Laplante), Cedric is suspended from work and has to stay home with his girlfriend Nadine (Chokri herself) and their baby.  Nadine soon leaves Cedric to fend for himself and the child, and he hires Amy (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), who instantly becomes a subject of fantasy and obsession for all concerned, even as Cedric and Jean-Michel are trying to collaborate on an epic work of apology for Cedric’s act in particular and the misogyny of all men in general (which incidentally can be published and make them rich).  That’s not an unpromising premise for satire, but Babysitter never finds its voice, lurching instead from flat comedy (much of the humor is supposed to come from characters repeating the same lines over and over) to surreal sketches that are like YouTube Bunuel.  There’s no heat in the attempted eroticism, no rapport among the cast, and nothing in particular to say about the current state of morality.  Eventually, it’s not even clear what’s going on.  Babysitter doesn’t earn a tip.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."