Source: 'Sharp Stick' | Official Red Band Trailer | Utopia
Aug 1, 2022
Lena Dunham discusses ‘Sharp Stick,’ her first film in over a decade
The 'Girls' creator and one-time face of millennial Brooklyn 'needed a moment to collect myself,' opens up about dealing with criticism
The last time most of us saw Lena Dunham, she was playing Gypsy in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood.” Gypsy is based on Charles Manson’s acolyte, Catherine “Gypsy” Share, who recruited 19-years-old Leslie Van Houten to the family. In 1969 Van Houten was charged for committing murder at Manson’s direction.
It was a far-cry from playing the fictional Brooklynite Hannah “I may be the voice of my generation” Horvath on HBO’s “Girls” for six seasons.
Around the time she cameoed in “Hollywood,” Dunham was in the midst of a personal renaissance. She was working nonstop since 2010, when her first movie “Tiny Furniture” was a hit at SXSW, followed by “Girls” until 2017. But her grueling schedule allowed little time to reflect on eleven years in the spotlight.
“Once ‘Girls’ finished, I just needed a moment to collect myself,” says Dunham. “I needed to understand what I wanted to make, what was important to me, and find the right way to release it.”
In 2018, she set out to remake the British series “Camping,” working again with HBO, only for it to last one season. Along with the show’s abrupt end, so did Dunham’s long-time creative partnership with producer-writer Jenni Konner.
Two years later, at the height of the pandemic, lockdowns forced Dunham to reflect on her career and her health. Dunham was chronically ill with endometriosis until she had a hysterectomy in April 2017.
With her career at an inflection point, and pandemic isolation creating what she calls “the insistent fear that none of us might ever return to doing what we love,” Dunham’s new film “Sharp Stick” began to take shape.
“Sharp Stick,” out in theaters August 5, follows Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth), a 26-year-old whose development was affected by the trauma of getting a hysterectomy in her teenage years, resulting in a lack of social and sexual experiences. The coming-of-age story sees Sarah Jo discover her sexuality for the first time.
“Sarah Jo is working through the fear around what it means to be a sexualized woman,” says Dunham. “She’s remaking it in her own image, as I tried to do throughout my twenties, with mixed results.”
We spoke with Dunham about releasing her first movie in 12 years. She also talks about the “surreal” tenth anniversary of “Girls,” why collaborating with her husband Luis Felber is essential to their relationship, and how being less online helps her deal with criticism from the left, accusing her of not being a good feminist and having an “iffy history with race,” and criticism from the right, accusing her of the sexual abuse of her sister. About those conservatives: Dunham talks about what it’s like for her work to actually receive positive reviews from right leaning critics.
This interview has been edited for flow and concision.
People couldn’t talk about Brooklyn without talking about you for a really long time.
I’m so sorry about that.
Did you enjoy filming “Girls” in Brooklyn?
The thing I always loved about shooting in Brooklyn is people are just so unimpressed that you’re making a movie. There’s a joy to the lightness of Brooklynites and how little they care about what you’re doing and how willing they are to interrupt it. Mostly, they’re just angry that their parking space got upended. I will appreciate that for the rest of time. You feel the energy and activity around you even when you’re indoors and it’s a really awesome thing.
One of your recent projects, which I loved, is “Genera+ion” on HBO. I’m sad that people didn’t really catch onto it. Will you talk about working as a producer on the show?
I can’t take responsibility for it beyond just supporting the creators, but I just love that cast. It was such a pleasure to write an episode for them. I thought those kids were amazing.
I think it’s going to be like “Freaks and Geeks” where people look back and see all these young stars at the beginning of their career.
All those kids are doing amazing work in their own right. People are finding them and they’re finding their careers, so that makes me really happy. The alchemy of why certain projects ignite and why certain ones don’t is such a mystery. But I think if we know anything, it’s that nothing gets huge because it’s the best and nothing disappears because it’s the worst.
This year “Girls” celebrated 10 years since its debut. Do you think you’ll reboot it for HBO?
That was a surreal thing to me when I found that out, because if you had told me when we started that I would even exist in 10 years, it would have been impossible for me to wrap my head around. I haven’t watched it since, which is not out of a lack of pride, it’s just that I’m always so focused on whatever I’m making next. But my husband hasn’t seen it, so he keeps threatening to watch it. Maybe that will bring me back in? In terms of making it, it’s such a time capsule and so specific to its moment, it’s hard for me to imagine doing it again with the cultural conversation that’s happening now. I just feel really lucky that we got to make it in that moment.
Why haven’t you made a movie in over a decade?
I think that I always wanted to be making movies, but the television schedule is so all encompassing that you can’t really bow out of it to make anything else. Once “Girls” finished, I just needed a moment to collect myself and understand what I wanted to make, what was important to me, and find the right way to release it. The thing about movies is they don’t happen and they don’t happen until they do happen. And suddenly, two were happening right in a row. So it wasn’t exactly intentional that they’re coming out eight weeks apart, but I hope that people, who feel so inclined, will watch both of them and see the ways in which they’re connected. Even though they’re very different, they’re certainly asking some of the same questions.
You directed your husband’s music video “Tucked in Tight” and he scored “Sharp Stick.” How do you like working with him?
I love it. You always kind of wonder if there’s going to be some like inherent disaster when collaborating with someone that you’re close to. We both love what we do and we love spending time together. We also have a really shared aesthetic. I also feel like he pushes me and hopefully I push him. So to be able to collaborate and engage each other on the thing that we love most has been such a joy. I think we’re both so work obsessed that if we didn’t do it together it would be a real loss to spend time together. And as the kids say, he understands the assignment.
Your “Sharp Stick” co-stars Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Jon Bernthal are both in FX’s “The Bear.” What do you think about the show?
I just started watching! They’re incredible. Ebon and Jon are good friends, and I actually met Jon through Ebon. It makes sense they appear in a lot of things together because they really understand each other. They have a shared approach to what they do; a passionate, deeply committed, but always with a sense of humor thing that they both do. I think this is their third collaboration because they did “The Punisher” together as well. It was a joy for me to have them on set together because they make each other laugh and they push each other and they come up with intensely amusing ideas.
I thought Ebon creates authentic accents. His Chicago accent in “The Bear” was so perfect because he’s not overdoing it, but you can totally hear it in his undertones.
In “Sharp Stick” he’s doing a very light Swiss accent, which is really funny and strange. When he told me he was going to do it, I was like, “What does that even mean?” And then he came and I was like, “Oh, I guess that’s what it means.” The fact that Desi wore eyeliner on “Girls,” that’s an Ebon Moss-Bachrach special.
Almost a decade ago you were subjected to constant criticism from the right and the left. How did you handle the scrutiny?
I think it used to affect me more when I spent more time online. Now I’m pretty removed from it because I don’t go on Twitter or Instagram unless I’m going on my husband’s to look at a picture of a friend’s dog. I’m not totally absent and unaware like I do read the Internet and try to stay as engaged as I can. But part of maintaining my own sanity and a safe space to make work has been to not live there.
Something funny happened at Sundance in January when the conservative magazine National Review gave “Sharp Stick” a good review, but a bunch writers at liberal outlets disliked it. Did you expect a divisive response to the movie?
It’s always interesting when someone whose views you don’t agree with takes up something that you make as a kind of totem. I remember, there were certain conservative people who thought “Girls” was a negative commentary on the laziness of millennials and their oversensitivity. It’s always an uncomfortable thing when someone whose views you obviously don’t support or engage with, in some way thinks you’re choosing to be on the same page. But I always have to hope that’s a willful disregard for what the story is really about.
What about when people who agree with your politics dislike your work?
When there’s a liberal person who shares my political affiliations who doesn’t connect with the film, that’s actually more comfortable for me. I’m like, “that’s just a dissent in personal taste.” And that’s just what it is. When you make a movie that’s super personal and small and doesn’t necessarily adhere to traditional structural or character ideas, you always have to be ready for the fact that certain people won’t put up with it.
So you don’t have a problem with criticism.
I have a real respect for criticism. I think it’s a really important art. We spend so much time reading people’s internet comments on everything that we forget that criticism is a real art form. I was raised by my artists parents to have a lot of respect for the job and the voice of criticism.
In one of your Instagram posts this year, you talk about living with “minimal hurt and maximal grace.” What does that mean in practice?
My goal is always to move through the world not being so formed by how you feel you’ve been wronged, but instead to be formed by the things that have gone right. Of course, for all of us, that’s like a hard won perspective, and it doesn’t work every single day. But we do our best to live that way.
“Sharp Stick” opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, August 5 and is available to rent on August 16.
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