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Movie Review: Shortbus

Written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell

Every once in awhile, a film comes out promising sexually-daring cinema, but has nothing really to say about the subject.  Shortbus is another one, where the sex in the film is real, but so fucking what?

It concerns a couples therapist, Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) who has never had an orgasm and her husband Rob (Raphael Barker) and a gay couple known as “The Jamies” (Paul Dawson as “James” and PJ DeBoy as Jamie) who are considering opening their relationship.  And there are ancillary characters including a dominatrix Severin (Lindsay Beamish) and a voyeur/stalker named Caleb (Peter Stickles), among others.  They all meet at a New York apartment/club called “Shortbus” where anything goes in the world of sex.  Anyone who walks through this place and can’t get laid is a eunuch.

The film is framed with abnormal and healthy, gay and straight, sex, with some in the middle, doing its best at “mainstream” pornography.  But I’m sure Mitchell would do his best to tell you that the movie isn’t about open-minded hay-rolling as much as it’s about relationships and how the deed affects love.  It was done better and more subtly in sex, lies, and videotape, Steven Soderbergh’s breakthrough film which didn’t have anything explicit except language.

The movie’s conclusions just feel absolutely wrongheaded.  Considering the number of balls that are shown in this film, it has no balls to come to any conclusion about what people can learn from all of this, unless the lesson is to try as many “open-minded” things as possible until one figures out what they like.  For that, I have a line that scene-stealer Justin Bond cracks during the movie: It’s like the sixties, only with no hope.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: October 25, 2006, 12:52 pm

Mitchell is one of those guys that I’m just going to admit I don’t get. I’m open to all kinds of films, but after struggling through “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and hearing the synopsis of this film, I’m just going to pass. It’s one of those people I just want to throw up as being overly pretentious when it comes to his filmmaking style, but there are a lot of people out there who love this guy, so who am I to bust chops? But I don’t get it.

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: October 25, 2006, 1:49 pm

Yeah, I had a chance to see Hedwig and I quickly lost interest while watching it, and never finished it. There’s daring with purpose, then there’s daring just to be daring. I think the two are often confused as the same.

Comment from Paul
Time: October 26, 2006, 11:35 am

I think it’s curious that every couple years some director makes a movie with unsimulated sex in it. It’s like there’s some underground movement to blur the line between art and porn. “It’s not pornography if I’m making a statement.” Garbage.

Porn is just as much art as Shortbus….only with crappier acting and less attention to plot. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but sex in a movie is sex in a movie…no matter what other trappings you put around it. Why not just make a porn movie and call it a day. As the site author pointed out….Soderburg proved that you can make artistic commentary about sex without showing penises.

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: October 27, 2006, 2:51 am

Absolutely right, Paul. Shortbus is very close to being just your everyday ho-hum porn, but with a so-called “story” and “production values” that make it seem like it’s not.

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