By Marina Foo
For the first ten minutes of Shortbus, the audience doesn’t get a moment to recover from the non-stop dirty parts and sex scenes all over the place. After the first few minutes are over, people can start to relax as more characters start to keep their clothes on and the crux of the film begins to unfold. Underneath all the sex taking place in the film, there is an emotional storyline discussing the issues and eventually solutions for all kind of sexual problems. It’s ultimately these stories, combined with its unabashed nature that makes Shortbus a modern, sexy classic.
Being the second film John Cameron Mitchell has directed, Shortbus has similar characteristics to his first film, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Except for Hedwig’s transsexual protagonist, both films parallel one another by having the main characters search out their greatest desires. While Hedwig’s desire lies in her quest for love, the protagonists in Shortbus are searching for meaning in sex.
The graphic, abrasive introductions of each character is important to the film’s success, as each reveals something of their individual dilemmas. There is James (Paul Dawson) attempting to fellate himself before his boyfriend enters the apartment: James is uncertain of his feelings for his boyfriend and appears to be distancing himself. Sophia (Sook-Yin Lee) and her husband are having sex on nearly every surface of their apartment before she tells him about one of her clients who can’t have an orgasm, hiding the fact that she herself is incapable of achieving one. Then there is Serverin (Lindsey Beamish), a dominatrix prostitute, who refuses to tell her client about any of her personal life because she is unable to connect with another human being.
While it may seem have as though Shortbus has a little too much sex (it’s possible) with storyline as an afterthought, however the film does carry emotional weight while finding answers for its characters. Each finds a resolution in the end, and while it isn’t always ideal, it’s satisfying.
Combining the best elements of pornography (explicit sex) and indie-darling drama (likeable characters), Shortbus is a glowing, if somewhat shocking success. That is, if you aren’t too horrified by the ideas of nudity, homosexuality, masturbation and, of course, lots and lots of sex.