Movie Review: Shortbus
FILM REVIEW: SHORTBUS
By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Assessing the various couplings and triangulations in the underground Brooklyn sex club of the title, one of the characters in "Shortbus" weighs in with a review: "It's just like the '60s, only with less hope."
Less hope does not mean hopeless, however. An amiably trashy mixture of rampant unsimulated sex and what you'd call "good try" acting, at least among those not necessarily cast for their acting ability, writer-director John Cameron Mitchell's film has a decadent surface but an essentially serious core. Mitchell is examining the post-9/11 funk of New York City. Everyone in his loose assemblage of characters is trying to exert (we'll use that word, "exert") their way out of that funk, while asking themselves the question posed by the song heard under the film's orgasms-all-around overture: "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?"
Mitchell made a splash with the droll off-Broadway number known as "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," about an East German transsexual who fronts a band and proves there's life after a botched sex-change operation. "Hedwig" later became a movie. Now, after heaping a comical amount of crises upon one memorably bewigged head, Mitchell takes on several boroughs' worth of sensual questing.
The characters land somewhere between cartoons and real people. A sex therapist (Sook-Yin Lee) yet to achieve sexual satisfaction counsels a couple (Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy) interested in adding a third party to their long-term equation. A dominatrix (Lindsay Beaming) struggles with her hostility and intimacy issues. At the Shortbus club, the ex-mayor of New York (Alan Mandell), modeled on someone suspiciously like Ed Koch, cruises the scene and laments the casualties of the AIDS epidemic.
There is lotsa lotsa lotsa sex in "Shortbus," and a lot of it is real. It's enough to mislead you into thinking one can have too much of a good thing. One can certainly watch too much of a good thing, at least. But just when the excess and the home-movie artlessness starts to grate, along comes a surprising and verifiably human interchange, or a classy image, such as the transitional helicopter-style swoops over a fake, cardboard-y New York. I enjoyed it. At a time when American moviegoers have become numb to the rampant, mainstream pornography of violence, it's refreshing to see a non-mainstream movie that wears its heart and lust on its sleeve, and has anything but violence on its mind.
Written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell; cinematography by Frank G. DeMarco; edited by Brian A. Kates; production design by Jody Asnes; music by Yo La Tengo; produced by Howard Gertler, Tim Perell and Mitchell. A ThinkFilm release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:42. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for nudity, sexuality and language).
Sofia - Sook-Yin Lee
Severin - Lindsay Beamish
Ceth - Jay Brannan
James - Paul Dawson
Jamie - PJ DeBoy