Shortbus is the notoriously explicit, yet sweet-hearted, dramedy of New Yorkers struggling with their sex lives. As John Cameron Mitchell’s follow-up to the masterful Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it’s hard to read what exactly this movie was about beyond the narrative – but the way the narrative itself is told is truthfully pretty innovative.
The opening montage is explicit, unsimulated sex – a seemingly obscene way to kick off a film, but it frankly prepares us better for the plot lines to come. A couples counselor struggles with her own developing sexuality, a couple explore a polyamorous relationship, both explored in very descriptive, sometimes visually graphic detail. Without that boundary-pushing opening scene, however, the bulk of the movie could have just come across as “dirty talk” or some attempt at shock value. We as an audience are better set up for the real movie in store.
Much of the action (no pun intended) takes place at the Shortbus, an underground club / scene where visitors explore their sexuality, interacting with a unique cross-section of humanity and often learning more about themselves. (Side note: the Emcee played by Justin Vivian Bond is hysterical, and could not have been in enough scenes.)
Mitchell’s choice to explore the human condition through sex as a discourse is an interesting, and very innovative one – by the film’s end, though, it was unclear what exactly the takeaway was, beyond the resolution of the characters’ crises. Particularly to those of us outside the urban underground scene, who likely will not visit Shortbus-type clubs anytime soon, the world created almost seemed too foreign to relate to. Shortbus is an interesting, certainly unique ride, though even by the end I wasn’t sure where it was trying to take us.