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Numerous New York City dwellers come to the exclusive club Shortbus to work out problems in their sexual relationships. Rob and Sophia are a happily married couple, except for the fact that she has never experienced sexual climax. This irony follows her to work because she is a couples counselor who frequently has to deal with the sexual issues other couples have. Two of her patients are Jamie and James, a gay couple who have been monogamous for five years and counting. James wants to bring other men in to the relationship, and his own history with depression may hint at an ulterior motive. Ceth (pronounced Seth) may be the perfect addition to their family, but Caleb, a voyeur from across the street, may have his own ideas about that. Sophia visits Severin, a dominatrix with secrets of her own to reveal. Written by
The Chinese characters on the wall in Dr. Sofia's (Sook-Yin Lee) office are "jiu ming" which means "save my life!" in Chinese. It's what you call out for help when you're in danger. See more »
The moment Jamie enters alone the swimming pool he is fully naked. When he is rescued by 'the stalker', you can see a (very short) underwater shot of his body wearing black underwear/swimwear. See more »
I have a bad feeling that after the first ten minutes of Shortbus are through, much of the audience will have already left; because within this first segment, sophomore director John Cameron Mitchell has the mind to show his audience the nature of this very, ahem frank work. Audiences will have witnessed filmed masturbation, wild fornication in a myriad of poses, and a scene of S&M sexual nature. These are all acts we've seen before from other Hollywood pictures; but then again, those pictures only played pretend. Shortbus requires all its actors to do such acts for real.
Is Porn too strong a word to describe such a film? It's debatable, I suppose. Films that boast actual penetration are usually not found in theatres anymore; instead hidden in the back of your video rental stores, or placed neatly on a shady internet site. But Pornography uses plot mechanisms only to drive the story into another sex scene. Shortbus has plot mechanisms to drive the arcs of its characters. That its characters all play roles indulgent in fornication is simply the nature of Shortbus' stories. But enough about the ethics of Shortubus; it's a good film. And if you're not too squeamish for the subject matter, and have a mind for tongue-in-cheek wit, then it shouldn't matter how close to porn the film means to aim.
It's a story of New Yorkers. A fringe group of New Yorkers who all meet at the underground lounge Shortbus. It's a place of casual frivolity, where people of any sexual preference are free to indulge in whatever they please. They mingle and dance and drink and have sex, all happily and without any semblance of filth or vice. These people are simply enjoying themselves and being quite hilarious while they do it. The members that we're asked to follow all come from the Magnolia school of connections, where links between characters are often coincidental and illogical, but acceptable as obligations of an ensemble drama. Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) is a Sex Therapist who prefers to be called a Couples Councilor and who's unable to have an orgasm. She's invited to Shortbus by the club's poster child couple, Jamie and Jamie (Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy), who assure Sofia that if there's an orgasm to be found, it's hidden within Shortbus. In a dark room there, Sofia meets Severina (Lindsay Beamish), a lonely dominatrix who gets mean when uncomfortable, and whose longest relationship was with the geeky trust fund sexual deviant.
All their stories are all human and kind of affecting, managing to dig their way out of the film's heaping shock factor to create something like empathy. It's nothing heartbreaking or particularly inspiring, but how much can we really expect from a film that has an entire scene dedicated to the National Anthem being sung into an anal orifice. But that's the charm of Shortbus, I suppose. Director/Writer John Cameron Mitchell has made a film more explicit than most pornography while keeping eroticism completely out of the equation. The film's sexuality is frank and the humor always constant, while avoiding jokes that patronize its cast of outsiders.
It's too easy to forget the poignancy of Shortbus, though. The dialogue that's sure to be shot wild by its release won't be about its humor or spirit; talk will be of the skin that was exposed in finding the better, realer bits. It's too bad, but, again, what can we expect from a film that sings the National Anthem into a man's anus? Rating: 3 out of 4
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