Kudos to John Cameron Mitchell and the fabulous ensemble cast for illuminating sex in a brave new way. I’ve never seen so much raw [read: unsimulated] sex in a movie aside from pornography, of course, which is part of what made this movie so groundbreaking when it was released in 2006. Let’s face it, films like this will probably never flow into the mainstream multiplexes of Anytown, USA; and Shortbus is unquestionably reserved for a slimmer percentage of liberated individuals. However explicit, the film far escapes being relegated as porn, smut or even erotica, and instead becomes true art and a multilayered look at human relationships.
Shortbus is a hedonistic flipbook of sexual moods and exploration. There’s Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee), a sex therapist who has raucous sex with her sweet husband Rob (Raphael Barker) but has not yet achieved orgasm, James (Paul Dawson) and Jamie (PJ DeBoy), a gay couple struggling with monogamy (and James’ depression makes a fascinating and gut-wrenching story), Ceth (Jay Brannan), a pretty model-musician who James and Jamie engage in three-way with, Severin (Lindsay Beamish), a professional dominatrix who clandestinely longs for true intimacy. All of the characters, even the minor ones, are memorable.
Mitchell went at this project in a different way; after viewing special features and doing some research I learned that the cast was selected before a screenplay was even written, and the storylines were based on the actors’ personal contributions. In a film where sex is the binding glue, it seems only natural that there would be a close working dynamic between cast and director and of course the cast themselves (actors were screened for STDs prior to filming), and it is most evident when viewing the finished product. The actors are diverse and real, and I must commend their brave performances; there are few actors who would be willing to take such risks, especially for an indie-cult flick. Which underlines the belief that as progressive as American’s claim to be; when it comes to sex-lib, we still have leaps and bounds to go.
Shortbus is bound to teach, not preach. It may be drenched in sex, but at the end of the day, it proves it’s not about sex; but rather sex as a vehicle with which to more closely examine the underbelly of human nature and the complications that come from sexual liberation and relationships. There’s plenty of color and homoerotica for all…just dive in baby, and enjoy.