Lena Dunham returns to movies with ‘Sharp Stick,’ and she hired women to lead the crew


It’s been more than 11 years since Lena Dunham put a film into the world. And her first movie was kind of a big deal. In 2010, Dunham — then a recent graduate of Oberlin College in her early 20s — landed a South by Southwest premiere for her directorial debut, “Tiny Furniture.” It went over so well with the industry that Judd Apatow decided to team up with her on HBO’s “Girls,” and we all know how that went.

At 35, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunham felt pulled to return to the medium she had been most drawn to in her youth. Last year, she began writing and then quietly shot “Sharp Stick,” which premiered at the virtual Sundance Film Festival on Saturday night.

The movie, Dunham says, is about a woman in her mid-20s (Kristine Froseth) who has “experienced some trauma of a hysterectomy from endometriosis in her teens and has paused her sexual development.” She’s trying to figure herself out while also making ends meet as a babysitter — and while at work, she falls for the married father (Jon Bernthal) of the kid she’s watching. After the affair blows up, the filmmaker says, the character “takes a complex and at times fulfilling — at times, less so — journey of self-discovery around her latent sexuality.”


Dunham discussed the project as part of this year’s virtual Times Talks @ Sundance, sponsored by Chase Sapphire (the panel video is embedded above). She was joined by members of her cast including Froseth, Bernthal, Taylour Paige and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Leigh — whom Dunham specifically wrote a part for in “Sharp Stick” — said she particularly enjoyed working with all-female department heads on the film set.

“There’s just an effortless way of communicating that’s sometimes even nonverbal,” explains Leigh. “You don’t even realize the difference, but you feel it. It just infuses the set. There’s an ease and an openness, I think, that’s different. It’s a very safe feeling.”

Paige, who made her film debut as the lead in 2021’s “Zola,” felt so comfortable with the women on set that she freely shared personal health information with Dunham. In the midst of shooting a scene with Froseth — who plays Paige’s sister in the movie — the actress began to feel frustrated.

“I’d just started my period, and I have endometriosis too. It’s really excruciating,” recalls the actress, referring to the gynecological condition Dunham also suffers from. “Something wasn’t working. And Lena texted me something so kind, because I was so upset with myself and I felt like I was wasting our time. She’s like, ‘It’s a full moon.’ There was just such care and warmth and understanding.”


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