Shortbus (18)



Drama (2006)
101mins US

Starring: Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, PJ DeBoy
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Writer(s): John Cameron Mitchell
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Saucy and provocative journey through present day New York, where various characters search for lasting sexual fulfilment. While therapist Sofia hunts for a man capable of bring her to orgasm, gay couple Jamie and James confront their insecurities, leading them to consider the possibility of a threesome with handsome twenty-something Ceth.

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LondonNet Film Review

Shortbus

Justin Long quotes an old friend of his in Shortbus, saying, "I used to want to change the world, now I just want to leave the room with a little dignity." Depending on your sexual peccadilloes, it may be a little difficult to leave the audience for Shortbus with your dignity...

Shortbus. The Works UK DistributionThere isn't much that's left out of Shortbus. There's straight sex, gay sex, public sex and every variation and combination in between. What's more, none of the sex in the film is simulated; the director, John Cameron Mitchell, has even gone so far as to say that every climax in the film is real. Mitchell's first film, cult-favourite Hedwig and the Angry Inch, became the darling of critics and cinephiles alike by pushing boundaries and being funny at the same time. This film takes it even farther.

If you walk in to Shortbus, be ready for anything. By the time the scene arrives, it doesn't really seem that strange to watch a man sing the American national anthem with his face mashed between another man's buttocks.

The two main characters, Sofia and James, are both in monogamous relationships but are both unhappy. Sofia is a relationship counsellor who has never had an orgasm, while James is just really depressed for reasons that become clearer later on in the film. Sofia and James begin to work on their problems with the help of people they encounter at the avant-garde meeting-place Shortbus, "a salon for the gifted and challenged".

To have spent so long going on about the sex in the film is, in some ways, a disservice. The focus of the film isn't sex; it's about all of the couplings that a person has in their life, including but not limited to sexual couplings. In the end, the most striking element of the film is its optimism in an alien and unforgiving climate. The final message of the film would seem to be that love, especially free love, can conquer all. As Justin Bond says, "It's like the 60s, but with less hope."

This line is indicative of the other real appeal of the film: it's genuinely funny, but often in a refreshingly non-ironic way. The film doesn't sneer at honesty or real emotion, which is lucky in many ways. Any film that's self-referential and ironic will always bleed itself of its emotional content, for how can something that mocks serious emotion be itself taken seriously? Thus Shortbus, despite its explicit and deranged content, is in the end a rather sweet and touching film simply because it isn't afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. That said, much of the humour is, as you might expect, rather blue. For example, right in the middle of a poignant and important monologue, the long-suffering host for the Shortbus salon is told off-handedly, "Someone just came on your cat."

All in all, Shortbus will be a divisive film. There has already been an intelligentsia backlash of "I like this, I'm more open-minded/cultured/whatever" that runs contrary to the spirit of the film. If viewers come away from Shortbus thinking about the sex, they have missed something. The film uses sex as characterization more than as subject matter; as director John Cameron Mitchell says, "I always thought that if you watched two strangers having sex you could make some very good guesses about them from what their childhood was like to what they had eaten for lunch that day."

By showing so much to the audience, JCM has merely made it easier to humanize these actors. By the final sequence of the film, the audience is whole-heartedly rooting for these poor people to get what they've always wanted, even if it is a hard spanking from a prostitute. While the "normal" kids go to class on the big yellow school bus, the special-needs kids take the Shortbus and it's quite a ride. Feel free to steal that hilarious double entendre.

- Nicholas carter


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