Thursday, January 11, 2007


Movie name: ShortBus
Year of release: 2006
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Stars: Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, Raphael Barker, PJ DeBoy, Peter Stickles, Justin Bond
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Following the success of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, John Cameron Mitchell embarked on a project that was called “The Sex Film Project”, a project that according to him would have a frank depiction of human sexuality. The film is a journey to the lives of a group of New Yorkers, that converge on a club called “Shortbus” – this club functions as a cathartic experience for all of them.

When “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” premiered in the Sundance Film Festival in 2001, John Cameron Mitchell received much praise and eventually won the award for best Director and the Audience Award. The film went on to win many accolades (Mitchell was nominated for the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy/musical), but the question that remained was how would John Cameron Mitchell follow that terrific film. Being directly responsible for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” since it’s creation as a stage play, John Cameron Mitchell set out to create a film that would depict human sexuality in a frank and clear way, without the artificiality that comes associated with Hollywood films (in a sort of Dogma style).
“Shortbus” premiered in Cannes in May of 2006 to mostly favorable and enthusiastic reviews. Many critics described the film as a “Woody Allen film with explicit sex” – which odd as it may seem, turns out to be a good indication of what the film is about.
The film opens with a presentation of an animated New York, where the story takes place. We are slowly introduced to the main characters – Jamie and James, a gay couple going through a crisis since Jamie wants to add a further person to their relationship, Sofia and Rob, a couple with their own sexual problems, since Sofia though being a relationship/sex counselor, is unable to achieve an orgasm, Severin, a dominatrix with intimacy/relationship problems, and the people that circulate their circle. Sofia ends up being the guide to the story, in the sense we follow her pursuit to achieve an orgasm – in order to know how to do it, she goes to “Shortbus”, a club where people liberate themselves, and freely discuss sex, politics and engage in whatever kind of sexual/sentimental relationship they choose to embark.
John Cameron Mitchell has created with “Shortbus” a film that surprises for its’ honesty and poignancy as far as relationships are concerned. The characters that inhabit “Shortbus” are dominated for a quest to find their inner voice, their inner peace – sex supposedly a means to connect them, ends up being what separates them. Sofia is the character that introduces us to “Shortbus” - as a sex therapist that can’t achieve an orgasm, Sofia starts the film perfectly inserted within a relationship apparently healthy, but that we discover, is full of wholes. Jamie and James are another couple trying to cope with the changes in their lives – how to introduce someone else in the dynamics of their relationship and in what way will that affect them. Severin is a dominatrix that sees the world as an endless supply for her art form, however she’s starting to find her activity unbearable. All these characters end up converging in the same club – “Shortbus”, dominated by the master of ceremonies, the charismatic Justin Bond. John Cameron Mitchell has achieved with this film the tricky matter that is presenting sex explicitly onscreen without being labeled pornographic or titillating – this is a film that manages to present the frailties and insecurities of these characters in a way that resonates with the audience. It has plenty of humor – the scene with the reference to Nagisa Oshima’s “In the Realm of Senses” is laugh out loud funny, and also a heartfelt love for it’s characters. The film’s story and development was done by Mitchell and his actors (one of the reasons the film took so long to be finalized was the casting process), and by the end of the film, with all the catharsis that all the characters have experienced, it feels as if though they all have found some peace. The group of actors uniformly manage to convey the story in a way that is engaging and achingly real – Sook-Yin Lee, also seen in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” ends up being a revelation – her Sofia is confused, desperate, needing answers, but simultaneously sweet, loving and caring.
“Shortbus” is a film that may present itself difficult for some audiences, however the explicit sexuality shouldn’t deter the audiences to find it’s core - similarly to the characters, this is a film that will move and touch you.