There is a lot of sex in Shortbus. A lot of real sex. With just about every imaginable coupling possible (guy/girl, girl/girl, guy/guy, guy/guy/guy, girl/toy), and people doing things that nobody thought was possible. This was what filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) wanted. He wanted to have a film with the actors engaging in actual intercourse that was not filmography. Mitchell wanted a film about sex that wasn't about titillation, but was an actual exploration of emotions. To affect this, he auditioned and worked with the actors for over a year, giving them workshops and developing their stories with them. Shortbus is the result, and while the sex is emotional and not pornographic, much of the film still feels like a glorified acting experiment.

Mitchell's biggest failure is the omission of an emotional "money shot." He and the various actors do a good job of exploring their characters and the issues that each is undergoing. Nevertheless, by the end of the film, he either has everybody go through a standard movie arc of learning something that will improve themselves, or leaving things open-ended a bit too much. And does the real sex add anything to the film? Not really. The sex between the characters does give an intimate look at things, but Mitchell could do the same thing with actual sex. In the Shortbus nightclub, the group sex shocks Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee, The Art of Woo, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), a sex therapist who has yet to have her own orgasm.

The biggest surprise about Shortbus is how sweet and tender everything comes across. The characters are lost, looking for something emotional to connect with. Sofia's relationship is suffering because she cannot achieve orgasm. She goes to Shortbus (named after the smaller school bus where all the misfits go), a small club in New York where anything goes. People do not just go there for the sex, which there is a lot of, they go because they are welcome. No matter who they are, they will find friends at Shortbus. Two of her clients, James (Paul Dawson, Urbania, The Big Kahuna) and Jamie (PJ DeBoy) are going through their own relationship crisis. They think that opening up the relationship may help, and are looking for a third party. James is drifting away and Jamie knows this, but cannot do a thing about it. James often films himself and Jamie, but will not show Jamie the film. Severin (Lindsay Beamish, Scorched, Guinevere) is a dominatrix who has never had a meaningful relationship with anybody. She uses her sessions to literally lash out at her clients.

In the end, the sex is a bit distracting. People will go see Shortbus for the sex, and not for anything else. And in some cases, the sex is the most interesting aspect of the film. Real emotions emerge by the third act, particularly from Dawson and DeBoy, but the Lee character comes across as a bit shallow. She is the main focus of the film, so the rest of the film feels a bit this way. It's good that Mitchell spent so much time with his actors, crafting each story with them. It probably helped them out, and they got to have fun on the side. It's unfortunate that this didn't translate all the way to the big screen.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 42 minutes, Not Rated but contains graphic sexuality and language, an easy NC-17.

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