In “Sharp Stick”, Jon Bernthal invents the kiss
I don’t care what people say about Lena Dunham, the woman knows how to shoot a sex scene. Although it helps that she has Jon Bernthal in her back pocket. In pointed stick (currently in theaters), Dunham’s first low-budget feature in over a decade, Bernthal plays a self-proclaimed “loser” named Josh who says things like “you got that” and wears hoodies and shorts basketball and multiple channels and is married to a high-achieving alpha (played by Dunham) with whom he shares a son with Down syndrome (Liam Michel Saux). Of course, he starts fucking the babysitter. It’s such a common trope that it hardly causes any ripples anymore, except babysitter Sarah Jo (a very playful Kristine Froseth) reads like a kid herself. She is so immature that it seems to affect her personality in various ways, including her little house on the prairie wardrobe and her “Pa?” wide-eyed energy. More importantly for the film, it affects his sexuality. Sarah Jo had a “radical hysterectomy” at 15, which means she went through menopause at 17, and, as she explains to Josh, “I don’t feel my age and I don’t feel my body”.
Now many adults in their 40s – even without being the boss and having a pregnant wife and a child with special needs – would hear all this and hopefully pat Sarah Jo on the hand and make her hot chocolate and send -her on her way. But the road to hot sex is paved with moral dilemmas, and so, 20 minutes after pointed stick, we find Josh crouching in the laundry room, rapping in a low voice, as Sarah Jo, lanky and nubile, appears at the door and asks, “Do you think I’m beautiful?” Josh is caught off guard – the “Huh?” Bernthal’s is classic, but it’s the kind of hesitant no that comes with increasingly yes body language. The way he quickly closes the door after she shows him her scars, the way he tilts his head in sympathy, the way he covers his mouth in a way that says “Really?” A virgin? For me???” the way he moves forward when he should be moving backwards, the way he can’t help but be flattered by this kid who calls him masculine when everything else in his life tells him that “He’s not. ‘I promise you don’t want to lose your virginity to me,’ he says. ‘I’m like a loser.’ He suggests Zac Efron instead, but Sarah Jo doesn’t look Disney.
OK, I’ll describe THE KISSING SCENE here, but nothing will do it justice like watching it. As Sarah Jo tells Josh about her hysterectomy in graphic detail, Josh slowly approaches her, lowering his waist a little, lowering his head so he’s level with her, to the point where when he’s finally face to face with her and says he thinks she is beautiful, he looks almost her age. She smiles. Josh closes his eyes and whispers, “Can I kiss you?” (I know.) Sarah Jo gives him an enthusiastic nod. He kind of lowers his head, resigns like it’s out of his hands, and says, “K, I will.” (I know.) Josh strokes Sarah Jo’s cheek and chin – oddly fatherly – then, “Oh, fuck,” he says, and he walks in and – OK, here you have to just imagine the sound of breathing and those soft sounds that are kinda viscerally gross but also viscerally not – so he kisses her once, normally she’s against the wall, basically overwhelmed by it all, then he delicately licks her upper lip, grabbing a few teeth, then, gently, kisses her lower lip, then, again, he licks the lower lip, then the upper lip, then, as he pulls away, she kisses his nose, trying to follow but visibly dazed. . . BIG EXPIRY. Then, you know, they basically have sex, but it doesn’t matter, because they’ve already done everything. WITH THEIR FACES.
Now I KNOW there was an intimacy coordinator (Chantal Cousineau) on this film. I KNOW Bernthal is a happily married man with three children. I know these are just two actors doing their job. But it may be the greatest kiss that has ever happened on the face of the earth. It’s more intimate than most sex scenes. He is perfect. And it’s no surprise that this is the scene Dunham is most proud of in pointed stick, in particular, “the many stages like negotiation and dialogue that they go through as they have this experience, and how much Josh reveals himself, but withdraws,” she told Nylon. “I think it was just so virtuosic from those actors.” Dunham wanted the film to be about sex but didn’t want to go back to the conversations about nudity that dominated the Girls speech (noting that she wished she had someone like Cousineau at the time). She wanted the sex scenes here to be about emotion, she told Yahoo, “but that doesn’t mean they aren’t intense . . . and that doesn’t mean they aren’t not graphics. Part of that was the way Dunham shot it, choosing not to ogle the actors’ bodies – only Bernthal is still nude and only from behind – adding that having a female cinematographer, in this Ashley Connor case, was defining. “Aesthetically, I really wanted to have these very composed frames,” she said, “almost like you’re just shooting a landscape or a conversation.”
Let’s be real though, this scene is excitement largely because it should be an extinction. Sarah Jo may be 26, which keeps her from getting legally rude, but as Dunham said of Josh, “he doesn’t recognize some of the core power dynamics of the relationship they’re involved in. , and so it’s easy for him to explain it to himself in a way, which I think is so often the case in these dynamics. That he’s way too old for Sarah Jo, that he has a pregnant wife, that Sarah Jo is the guardian of his son with special needs, that she herself is in many ways an innocent, that she is a virgin, that she comes to him with trauma, all of these things, one after the other, are barriers that unfortunately make the conquest all the more exciting.The whole story of the forbidden fruit is as old as time, but at a time when the social mores around the consent are being recalibrated, situations like this are getting more thorny A punitive but hygienic culture pocrite who openly believes in people’s right to privacy while having fun watching leaked celebrity sex videos keeps us from asking aloud: how do you walk the line when you cross it so well?
Filmmaker Andrea Arnold is a pro at unraveling these types of taboos. I remember being at the Toronto Film Festival screening of Aquarium, in which a 15-year-old girl (Katie Jarvis) has a huge crush on her mother’s (Michael Fassbender) boyfriend, and watches him drunkenly put his arm around her and stroke her hair, and shrink into my headquarters. “Do not do that !” I howled with laughter around me as he did anyway. Part of the reason that was so laudable was the meta-textual substance – Jarvis was only 18 and Fassbender was 32. It was a significant age gap, which made his comment raunchy while pushing on her much stronger. The same goes for the sadly explicit adaptation of Marguerite Duras the lover, in which Jane March was 18 playing a version of Duras at 15, and her co-star (Tony Leung Ka-fai) was in her thirties. The incredibly explicit sex scenes felt like a documentary considering the story was at least somewhat based on the author’s real-life experience. Then filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud only made matters worse by implying to the media that the sex scenes weren’t faked, forcing March to deal with the fallout before Annaud confirmed it was all indeed. fake.
Of course, it’s usually the women who pay for the transgressions of the men, like Maria Schneider who has to deal with the exploitation of the brothers by Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando while doing Last Tango in Paris, in which she was also a teenager. Although she is older, Margo Stilley (in 9 songs) and Chloë Sevigny (in brown rabbit) have both faced backlash for having real on-screen sex with their male co-stars. A backlash that seemed to come from predominantly male critics who obviously didn’t want to get away with it in spite of themselves, so they had to blame someone for it (why not the male directors???).
People hate to admit that risky fuck with no future is somehow the best fuck. Well, queer filmmakers aren’t. Openly gay director Alain Guiraudie used body doubles to show real sex in Stranger by the lake, an erotic thriller about a guy on a beach cruise who falls in love with a man he knows killed his last lover. Every graphic sex scene on this beach is only hotter for the threat of others invading their space, not to mention the possibility of our hero being next. There is a similar dynamic in She, in which Michèle, Isabelle Huppert’s character, falls in love with the guy (Laurent Lafitte) who rapes her. But Paul Veroheven and Huppert – she considers them co-filmmakers here and I have to agree – pull off the insane magic trick of diluting the taboo. The film culminates in the “lovers” featuring a mock rape, which sends Michele off the ground, meaning she has managed to strip her rapist of his power and adopt him as her own. In an interview with the TelegraphHuppert denied having “a passion for perversion”, calling She instead “a tale of revenge that explores the fine line between rage and rapture.”
With Pointed stickk, Dunham – a fan of Verhoeven – explores this fragile boundary even further, drawing on the sexual taboos presented by directors like Arnold, queer directors like Guiraudie and collaborators like Huppert. As their characters struggle to recognize the lines they cross, these filmmakers expose them to the world, bringing us that much closer to answering the questions we’ve avoided for so long.