Shortbus

 
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell
Written by: John Cameron Mitchell
Starring: Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Raphael Barker, Peter Stickles, Jay Brannan, Justin Bond, Alan Mandell
Released: November 16, 2006
Grade: A-

Shortbus is the most sexually explicit movie I have seen in a cinema (surpassing 9 Songs which was released last year).  It shows actual penetration and ejaculation.  It includes both heterosexual and homosexual intercourse.  It explores a range of fetishes and fixations.

By this point, I’m sure you’re either intrigued or repulsed.  If you fall into the later category, this film is simply not for you.  I could recommend at least 200 other films this year which will provide more enjoyment.  It’s a matter of taste.  You can stop reading now.

For those who are interested, don’t go along thinking this is a porno.  It includes two things that you won’t find in any porno – insightful commentary and a decent script.  Its content alone makes it a “must see” for those who appreciate alternative styles of filmmaking.  You may not like it but I guarantee that it’s something different.

The film revolves around a group of complicated people living in New York City.  James (Dawson) is a depressed filmmaker who loves his boyfriend (DeBoy) but struggles with intimacy.  Severin (Beamish) is a dominatrix who finds it easier to push people away than to get to know them.  Sophia (Lee) is a married sex therapist who has never had an orgasm.

They all come together (either interpretation will do) at an underground nightclub known as Shortbus.  It is a place where people can relax, talk and explore their sexual inhibitions without judgement.  A place detached from the outside world.

It’s hard to articulate exactly what these folk are feeling but I’ll try by describing it as a mix of unhappiness and confusion.  Is their frustrating sex life contributing to their problems?  Or is it the other way around?  Interesting conversations are shared between the leading characters as a result.  Some are humorous but others, particularly late in the film, are more poignant.  The best scene is found at the very end - Jamie consummately articulates his pain to a new friend, Caleb (Stickles).

Shortbus is the second feature film of director John Cameron Mitchell.  His first feature, Hedwig And The Angry Inch, won numerous honours around the globe.  When released in Australia in 2001, I described it as a film “that stands out in a year of lifeless releases.”  The same comment applies here.  Mitchell is a director who knows how to stand out.  His unconventional films leave an impression and a memory that most others do not.

Too much time is spent on certain plotlines (Sophia’s orgasm quest for example) but I’m willing to forgive Mitchell because the film has so many redeeming qualities.  The soundtrack is awesome and the musical montage at the end of the film (where we see how each character has changed) provides a well-time chance to reflect.

In the words of the club’s owner, “voyeurism is participation”.  An apt way of describing the 90 minutes you’ll spend in the theatre.