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Shortbus (Unrated)
DVD disk
Mar 22, 2007 By: Jason Adams
Shortbus (Unrated) order
Director:
John Cameron Mitchell

Actors:
Sook-Yin Lee
Paul Dawson
Lindsay Beamish

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A sex therapist who’s never had an orgasm, a depressed gay man worried about his lover, a dominatrix who yearns for a more traditional lifestyle and other such colorful characters deal with love and sex in New York City.

Mass orgies ensue. Seriously, all those people on the cover. They do it.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
When a movie opens with a montage that includes a guy filming himself urinating and farting in a bathtub and then attempting to give himself head, a warning flag immediately goes off in my mind. I can respect that people have different tastes. And I’m not some Jerry Falwell-type prude, but there are just some things I’d rather not see. And SHORTBUS definitely solidified “Watching a guy jerk off into his own face as he cries” as a part of that list. Granted, the rest of the movie isn’t as jarring as that opening scene (although just as graphic), but it does set up the tone to let you know that you’re in for a very “unique” experience.

John Cameron Mitchell is a talented filmmaker. I liked his previous film, the trans-rock opera HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, and I can see what he was trying to do here. Sexuality and expression has changed a lot in recent times (at least publicly) and it’s definitely ripe for examination in film. Spending three years with non-professional actors cultivating the story and script gave way to some very natural and honest performances in SHORTBUS. It also creates an effortless balance between the comedy and a darker underlying drama. There are some very funny parts in this movie (“Are you in?!”), but given the character situations it’s equally harrowing.

However, for all of Mitchell’s intentions, I still can’t really understand the mountains of praise this movie received. My guess is that people saw the unsimulated sex scenes and labeled it “Brave!” and “Bold!”, which coupled with its indie movie status must make it a great film, right? Not so much. Looking past the graphic content, SHORTBUS is a pretty boring movie with a lackluster narrative. There are way too many scenes of people sitting around just talking about sex, spouting off “facts” and making it all feel like a documentary. And while the film obviously reveres the realism of its characters, some of the ridiculous things they say or do come close to self-mockery. Things like Sofia’s therapy techniques, the menstrual blood performance art and some surprising gay guy clichés (“Monogamy is for straight people!”) just made it confusing.

I know Mitchell’s aim was to “demystify sex” in the modern age by openly showing a lot of it and I guess in that regard he was successful. But in the end, SHORTBUS just didn’t add up to mean much of anything to me.
THE EXTRAS
There's a couple worthwhile features here if you enjoyed the movie (mainly, the commentary and the Making Of feature):

Filmmaker and Cast commentary: After spending two years workshopping and creating the movie from scratch, the group has a very good, very funny rapport together which makes for an entertaining commentary. It’s also funny to hear each actor’s reaction to their more “revealing” scenes.

Gifted and Challenged: The Making of SHORTBUS (30:32): This is a case where the making of the film is actually different than your average movie (and not just because of all the sex). See the uh, “unique” audition tapes sent in by the actors, the years of rehearsal and filming, as well as the final presentation of the film. There’s also a little outtake where one of the actors accidentally has an orgasm a bit early.

How to Shoot Sex: A Docu-Primer (8:15): Raw footage from the orgy scene with commentary from Mitchell and Lee explaining how one professionally approaches filming a roomful of humping people.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (29:53): Eight scenes, most of which are just extended versions.

A few different Trailers, Previews and a nice Thank You section to the “Shortbusriders,” or people who helped promote the film on the Internet.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
So, a guy “makes a deposit” in his own face; is that really any different than Ben Stiller busting one in his ear in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY? Call me a hypocrite, but yes, yes it is. I’m sure some of you will really like SHORTBUS and more power to you. It’s just not my cup of tea. I didn’t feel it had any depth other than its shock value, and “brave” doesn’t always equal brilliant.

Extra Tidbit: Sook-Yin Lee was the host of a radio show for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and was almost fired from her job for her involvement in SHORTBUS. It wasn’t until people like Francis Ford Coppola, Julianne Moore and REM’s Michael Stipe wrote letters on her behalf that she was allowed to keep her job.
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