Shortbus‘s tour-de-force is a scene during which three cute gay boys sing the national anthem to—and into—each other’s bits and pieces. This inventive scenario is emblematic of the simultaneous charm, sexiness, and dysfunction of John Cameron Mitchell’s long-gestating follow-up to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The film’s explicit sex scenes are intimate and casually choreographed—reflective, Mitchell might say, of how his audience gets their groove on in real life—except the witty banter and political commentary that speciously blows into the story at intermittent moments is not so unforced, working to suggest that New York City, post-9/11, has become a small place after all (and, given that just about everyone—including this site’s editors—seems to know or has been macked on by one of the film’s stars, Mitchell may be right). There is a sense here that if the film were stripped of its sex scenes, its Manhattan locale was swapped for a Jersey ‘burb, and the songs of the Shortbus salon’s drag performers were replaced with Frou Frou and Coldplay anthems we might be watching Garden State all over again. But while Mitchell’s insular characters are prone, like Care Bears, to twee musings (“I felt I was shooting creative energy into the world and that there was no war,” someone says), the director is not so full of shit as to color-coordinate their clothes with the wallpaper in their rooms.
Mitchell uses a dubious but vividly aestheticized tableau of New York City to sweep in and out of the lives of characters whose problems are so weakly articulated they hardly inspire sympathy: Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee), a sex therapist who’s never had an orgasm; James (Paul Dawson) and Jamie (PJ DeBoy), boyfriends looking to bring a third man into their relationship; and Severin (Lindsay Beamish), a dominatrix whose real name is the film’s great comic-tragic revelation. At Shortbus, amid drag artists, musicians, and copulating masses, the two Jamies will find a cute boy, Ceth (Jay Brannan), to play with, Sofia will give someone else an orgasm in an elaborate scenario too twisted to spoil here, and where a former queer mayor of New York City (a stand-in, apparently, for Ed Koch) bemoans how little he did to battle the bourgeoning AIDS crisis during the ‘80s. Mitchell sets the forced pathos of his characters against a backdrop of post-Giuliani New York City dry-heaving from its own worries (note the frequent blackouts), but Mitchell understands sex (at least the boy-on-boy variety)—what ignites it, redirects its focus, and stops it cold—more than he does his party-happening people, whose backstories resonate as meekly as the director’s fuzzy post-9/11 philosophizing. Though sexy and sweet-hearted, the film is, finally, a trifle—a work-in-progress like the story’s characters.
We're experts on straight and gay porn alike, so we can say with great authority that we've never seen pussies with such fine shadow delineation or cocks with such attractive skin tones. Also, the sound of squirting cum never sounded so enchanting.
Featuring James Cameron Mitchell and stars Justin Bond, Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, and PJ DeBoy, the commentary track included here, not unlike the film, is prone to some gruelingly solipsistic stretches, but it's still insanely listenable. For every superfluous revelation, like Bond suggesting a mad love affair with Borat via his repeated references to a gypsy's sleeve, there are at least two rewarding disclosures, like Dawson (or DeBoy-seriously, the resemblance between these two goes beyond mere looks) stating how DeBoy, Jay Brannan, and himself took Viagra for their star-spangled threesome. Dawson and DeBoy may or may not still be boyfriends in real life, but it wouldn't be terribly strange if they weren't given their understanding of the rocky emotional terrain gay men can sometimes encounter after messing around with more than one person at the same time. A superior ride is the "Gifted and Challenged" making-of featurette, which traces the controversial evolution of the films from its mystery-shrouded origins as The Film Sex Project to its Cannes engagement. What's unique about this mini-doc isn't that we get to see the film's actors in never-before-seen angles, but that we are given an uncanny glimpse into the behind-the-scenes process of a highly unusual film experience-one that included actors taking STD tests, others dropping out of the project for fear of what it would mean for their careers (faces have been blurred, names have been beeped), and trying to see if the film's makeup crew could make it seem as if Raphael Barker wasn't wearing a condom during his sex scenes. Rounding out the disc is a "docu-primer" with optional commentary that takes an extended look at the film's infamous orgy, and eight deleted (mostly extended) scenes with cast-appropriate commentary, and an assortment of trailers and teasers.
Shortbus is not better than sex but it is trailblazing.and a great excuse to see attractive people putting their bits and pieces into each other.