Several emotionally challenged characters navigate the comic and tragic intersections between love and sex in and around Shortbus, a modern-day underground salon. A sex therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) who has never had an orgasm, her husband Rob (Raphael Barker), dominatrix Severin (Lindsay Beamish), who is unable to connect, a gay couple James (Paul Dawson) and Jamie (PJ DeBoy) who are deciding whether to sexually open up their relationship, seething young Ceth (Jay Brannan) and voyeuristic Caleb (Peter Stickles), all converge on Shortbus, a chaotic, high camp and edgy nexus of art, music, politics and polysexual carnality run by Justin Bond (himself).
Review by Louise Keller:
An orgasm is something a woman has to claim for herself, says the couples counsellor, who has yet to have one. But she is not the only one wanting. There is the dominatrix who uses her whip as a shield, the hunky pool lifeguard who video tapes his sexual wants, and the gay proof reader who watches through the window. Through a kaleidoscope of wildly colourful characters, Shortbus explores the pot of gold at the end of the sexual rainbow. Graphic sex for all persuasions is the engine, and symbolically, the lights are turned off and on as the crescendo to our desires is mounted. While John Cameron Mitchell's latest film is not ultimately as satisfying as his 2001 directing debut Hedwig and The Angry Inch, it constantly teeters on the edge, as it thrusts and confronts issues about love and sex.
Music is an integral part of the film's heartbeat, as the central characters mix and match searching for their own compasses. 'Our demons are our best friend; we all get it in the end,' goes the song. That pretty much goes for the film, too. Beyond the confrontation of erect penises, penetration in all positions, masturbation and electronic vibrators, there are some interesting notions. Like salvation that comes unexpectedly at the hands of strangers. And the juxtaposition of paradoxical situations. Mitchell's script (written after extensive workshops and collaborations with the unknown but excellent cast) is peppered with wit and there are many lines to savour. Like 'I feel the delicate wisp of your receding hairline,' and 'it's just like the 60s - with less hope.'
This is a film for the adventurous. A colourful and wondrously imaginative sexual adventure that integrates humour, symbolism and emotion. New York City is the G-spot and the digital representations coupled with animation seem appropriate. It may be called Shortbus, but it never feels like a short journey. After all, it ends with a triumphant brass band.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
How do you approach Shortbus, a film whose buzz began at Cannes 2006, where the talk was all about the graphic sexual freeform on show, a surface frisson that can't deliver cinematic depth; not any more. The official production notes refer to the story told "with sexual frankness, suggesting new ways to reconcile questions of the mind, pleasures of the flesh and imperatives of the heart" in a post 9/11 world. I'm not sure that 9/11 has much relevance here, not even for New Yorkers.
But as a big fan of John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and The Angry Inch, I am a tad disappointed in Shortbus, although I see much merit in its sexual frankness, even though I don't think sexual frankness involving many an erect penis, ejaculation, penetration of all orifices, etc, is cinema's forte. If Mitchell wanted to subvert porn by making it trite, he succeeded, although mainstream (or rather, festival-hardened) audiences will still find some of the material confronting. But at least he tries to line the scenes with a weird, single minded humour.
Still, in the context of an American movie awakening, in which sex replaces violence as the weapon of mass deconstruction, I can see its liberating and positive value.
The best scenes, though, are not the orgies or masturbation or jokey sex toy riffs, but the ones where the characters open up, recognise their weaknesses or simply put themselves on display - perhaps inadvertently, through the melancholy of living inside outrageous flamboyancy while protecting a conservative and vulnerable core. Lindsay Beamish as Severin delivers some of this, in fitful gasps between dominating her client.
The film grinds to a halt though, before the end, since it is less a plot driven film than a series of pot (and sex) driven filling between sketches; some work, some don't. But that's true of most life experiences, sex included.
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CAST: Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Raphael Baker, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Peter Stickles, Jay Brannan, Justin Bond
PRODUCER: Howard Gertler, Tim Perell
DIRECTOR: John Cameron Mitchell
SCRIPT: John Cameron Mitchell
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frank G. DeMarco
EDITOR: Brian A. Kates
MUSIC: Yo La Tengo
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jody Asnes
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 9, 2006