Shortbus - Movie Review

  • 09 October 2006

Rating: 4 out of 5

John Cameron Mitchell 's thesis in Shortbus harkens back to E.M. Forster's classic exhortation: "Only connect." In Mitchell's world, however, a big part of connection is sexual connection, and a big part of sexual connection is the ability to give and enjoy earth-shattering orgasms. Mitchell's characters are in search of sexual connection, and it's a shocking, hardcore search that brings intensely graphic (and real) sex to mainstream cinema for the first time. To put it another way: Oh. My. God.But Shortbus is not porn. The sex serves the story, and as was the case with Mitchell's other brilliant film, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the somewhat hard and threatening exterior hides a soft, sweet, and highly sentimental center. Shortbus is definitely about sex, but it's more about love and relationships and the joy one finds in truly connecting with someone else.We begin in the office of Sophia (Sook-Yin Lee), a young sex therapist. Her clients are depressed former hustler James (the very brave Paul Dawson) and his adoring boyfriend Jamie (PJ DeBoy). After five years, they fear they've lost the spark, and they're considering opening up their relationship, sexually speaking. Sophia is distracted by her own problems. We've already seen that she's capable of astonishingly acrobatic and energetic sex with her husband, but she admits she's never had an orgasm.James and Jamie invite her to visit Shortbus, a regular party/performance space/orgy lorded over by transvestite singing talent Justin Bond (playing a version of himself). With trepidation Sophia enters and encounters every kind of polymorphous perversion imaginable. It's an eyeful. (The jaded Bond describes it as "Just like the '60s, only with less hope.") The only friend she makes is Severin (Lindsay Beamish), a sad-eyed dominatrix with a heart of gold, who offers to help her find her orgasm. Over on another couch, James and Jamie have attracted the virginal Ceth (Paul Brannan), whom they take home. The hardcore gay three-way that ensues features a creative performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" involving bodily orifices that's so obscene it will probably get the film banned in 31 states. And yet the scene is as funny and sweet as it is dirty. That's Mitchell's magic.With a rich cast of supporting characters keeping things lively and interesting -- at one point an elderly gay former mayor of New York shows up at Shortbus and has a truly gripping conversation with Ceth -- the movie is never dull. Sophia's frustration grows, and the James/Jamie situation gets more and more tense, especially when James's depression gets dangerous and he simultaneously discovers he has a stalker. It's summer in the city, and frequent brownouts are threatening a blackout to come. It will take a lot of sexual energy and perhaps a rousing song from Bond to get the lights back on. These people may scare you, but you'll probably wish you could hang out with them.If Shortbus has any flaw it's that it seems to have trouble wrapping up. Mitchell has many lovely images up his sleeve, and he keeps dealing them out one by one until the movie has more than done its job. Of course, an excess of good ideas is a nice problem for a director to have. Despite his post-9/11 cynicism, Mitchell delivers a happy ending, so to speak. In fact, it's more than happy. It's positively orgasmic.

Image caption Shortbus

Facts and Figures

Year: 2006

In Theaters: Friday 6th October 2006

Box Office USA: $1.9M

Box Office Worldwide: $5.2M

Budget: $2M

Distributed by: ThinkFilm

Production compaines: Fortissimo Films, Process Productions, Q Television

Reviews 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Fresh: 80 Rotten: 41

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Producer: John Cameron Mitchell, Howard Gertler, Tim Perell

Screenwriter: John Cameron Mitchell

Starring: Sook-Yin Lee as Sofia, Paul Dawson as James, PJ DeBoy as Jamie, Jay Brannan as Ceth, Lindsay Beamish as Severin, Raphael Barker as Rob, Peter Stickles as Caleb, Ray Rivas as Shabbos Goy, Bitch as Bitch, Shanti Carson as Leah, Justin Hagan as Brad, Miriam Shor as Cheryl, Bradford Scobie as Dr. Donut, Reg Vermue as Albino, Adam Hardman as Jesse, Alan Mandell as Tobias, the Mayor, Jan Hilmer as Nick, Stephen Kent Jusick as Creamy, Yolonda Ross as Faustus, Jocelyn Samson as Jid, Daniela Sea as Little Prince, Rachael C. Smith as Zoey, Derek Jackson as Derek, Jonathan Caouette as Blondie-Grabber, Mary Beth Peil as Ann, Lady of the Gutter, Tristan Taormino as Sextra (one of the participants in the orgy sequence), Justin Bond as Himself

Also starring: John Cameron Mitchell, Tim Perell