Streaming: Bodies Bodies Bodies, Sharp Stick and other great Gen Z films
If online trend reporting is to be believed – always a pretty big if, admittedly – generation Z is not big on watching movies, succumbing instead to the shorter, smaller-screen allure of TikTok and YouTube for their viewing pleasure. Perhaps that’s one reason why there doesn’t seem to be a definitive canon of teen films for the post-millennial generation – but then, Hollywood has often struggled with capturing contemporary youth when films tend to be made by their elders.
That disparity isn’t entirely fixed by two Gen Z-themed films out on VOD last week, though both – to this craggy old millennial’s mind, at least – have sharper teeth than many of their gawky peers. Halina Reijn’s seductively slick Bodies Bodies Bodies cleverly weaves a critique of zoomers’ fast-evolving identity politics through the sillier, traditionally teen-targeted genre prism of the slasher movie. Lena Dunham’s Sharp Stick takes a scruffier, less commercial form to examine the simultaneous terror and ecstasy of sexual discovery. Both strike me as essential, illuminating viewing, whether the kids are watching them or not.
Dunham presents Sarah Jo’s heady, vulnerable journey with a frankness that never turns lurid
By tartly satirising the language and psychology of cancel culture, safe spaces and performative social justice, Bodies Bodies Bodies is the one perhaps most sympathetic to an older adult’s jaded point of view. Reijn, the Dutch director who debuted with the highly provocative rape thriller Instinct (2019), is herself a Gen X-er, and Sarah DeLappe’s clever, booby-trapped script (based on a story by Kristen Roupenian, of viral Cat Person fame) is good-humoured but also quite generous in its portrayal of university students figuring out the extent and limitations of their privilege. The social barriers between them is brought into relief by the traditionally class-conscious framework of the country house murder-mystery, transplanted to a very American McMansion. Performed with shouty gusto by a terrific cast – with Shiva Baby star Rachel Sennott the standout as an entitled, glowstick-wielding dimwit – it’s a witty, nasty time capsule.
Sharp Stick, meanwhile, proves that Lena Dunham’s aptitude for articulating young female desire and unrest isn’t limited to her own generational self-portraits. Her first film as a director since 2010’s Tiny Furniture depicts a delayed adolescence of sorts, centring on Sarah Jo (a remarkable Kristine Froseth), a 26-year-old virgin still processing the trauma of a teenage hysterectomy. Her eventual, halting discoveries of sexual pleasure and pornography take a misdirected turn with a far older man. Dunham presents her heady, vulnerable journey with a frankness that never turns lurid, and a concern that never sinks into moralistic finger-wagging, weighing up the perils and thrilling liberties of shaping your sexual identity online.
Against Sharp Stick, the glossy generational portraiture of recent Zoomer comedies such as Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s Do Revenge (Netflix) and Quinn Shephard’s Not Okay (Disney+) feels flimsy by comparison, though both these satires of social media dangers have their poppy pleasures. In the former, an act of revenge porn prompts its own revenge mission in turn, with toxic masculinity an easy target. The latter offers slightly more conflicted motives as an aspiring influencer lies about witnessing a terrorist attack, and isn’t prepared for the consequences. Both films hinge on broadly stereotyped characters to carry what social commentary they have to offer. Neither is quite as well-drawn as Olivia Wilde’s much-loved Booksmart (2019), a semi-sweet friendship study, beautifully played by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, with something to say about the strange, suspended reality of high school social hierarchies and how they crumble in the outside world.
Breaking into a genre dominated by female directors and perspectives, however, Bo Burnham’s exquisite Eighth Grade might still be cinema’s best, most funny-tender portrayal of adolescence lived in the glare of the webcam and the smartphone. Even after four years, there’s already a quaintness to its depiction of the vlogging through which shy 13-year-old Kayla (the wonderful Elsie Fisher) figures out who she is, and who she wants to be. Teens grow fast, technology faster, and Burnham’s film delicately captures a particular pre-pandemic state of being and expression. Generation Z’s progression on film has only just begun.
Also new on streaming and DVD
Brett Morgen’s grand-scale audiovisual symphony for David Bowie gained a faintly trippy quality when seen and heard on a big screen, but will still enthral Thin White Duke obsessives at home. Largely eschewing the filmed-Wikipedia format of many music docs, it instead cinematically conjures the artist’s own whirling, restless presence and aesthetic.
A performance of fearsome conviction by Rebecca Hall occasionally comes close to making something meaningful of this loopy, Sundance-acclaimed psychodrama, in which a successful single mother and businesswoman is undone by the apparent return of an abusive figure from her past. As #MeToo trauma escalates into surreally unhinged body horror, it’s ultimately more silly than sobering.
Oscar-winning visual effects artist Phil Tippett (Jurassic Park) makes his feature directing debut with this gleefully grotesque, hyper-stylised fantasy for adults, rendered in painstaking stop-motion animation. The slender plot trails an enigmatic assassin through a series of lavishly imagined circles of hell; the deranged world-building is the selling point.