Shortbus (USA; 101 min.)

directed by: John Cameron Mitchell
starring: Raphael Barker; Paul Dawson; Sook-Yin Lee
Peter says: "With his new film SHORTBUS, John Cameron Mitchel again demonstrates why he is one of the most innovative writer/directors in independent film today. Mitchell, who also wrote, directed and starred in HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH this time tells the stories of some young New Yorkers who struggle to break through their emotional limitations. Sophia (Sook-Yin Lee in what must be the bravest performance by an actress this year) is a couples’ counselor who has raucous sex with her husband (Raphael Barker) but cannot have an orgasm. James (Paul Dawson) is part of a gay couple whose inability to allow his partner Jamie, (PJ DeBoy) to penetrate him emotionally or physically, depresses him to the point of videotaping preparations for his suicide. Lindsay Beamish plays Severin, a Polaroid-wielding professional dominatrix who aches for real intimacy.

"James and Jamie visit Sophia for counseling, but the session quickly turns into a cathartic moment for the therapist when she blurts out to the men that she is 'pre-orgasmic' (at which point Jamie wonders if that means she’s about to cum). Sensing a kindred, albeit wounded, spirit the men invite her to join them at an underground New York Salon where the ambiance, the attitude, and yes, even the sex, are judgment-free. The Salon is presided over by a transgender hostess (played by an understated Justin Bond of Kiki and Herb fame), who creates an atmosphere of acceptance that is both startling and reassuring.

"There are enough plot points in this film to keep any viewer slightly off kilter but most will be struck by, and perhaps have a difficult time seeing beyond, the graphic sex - and make no mistake, the sex is abundant and explicit. But Mitchell is very smart about how he shoots these scenes. The camera is never allowed to linger long enough to turn this into a vulgar, pornographic grind. Instead, we’re invited to be voyeurs with all its attendant teasing and titillations. Indeed, one of the key lines of the film is that 'voyeurism is participation.' In what is also becoming a hallmark of Mitchel’s films, uncomfortable subject matter is presented through very funny dialogue that softens the edges considerably. It’s hard to be offended when you’re laughing.

"Under the surface, though, Mitchel is really exploring the themes of courage and redemption. His characters are all dealt a hand of one kind or another that limits their ability to make deep personal connections. While not chiefly concerned with whether these people live happily ever after, Mitchel’s point seems to be that it takes work, tears and no small amount of guts to confront one’s problems and fight through them to the other side. In this case, he’s used sexual healing as one way of getting there. 3 1/2 cats"

Michael says: "I find it’s difficult to be too critical about SHORTBUS. Filmmaker and past Chlotrudis Awards-winner John Cameron Mitchell has created a film that’s so warm, nurturing and sex-positive that you can’t help but feel good about it. Unfortunately it’s not a great film, and there are lots of flaws in his execution. But does that really matter when you’re left with a rosy glow in the end? I’m not certain.

"There has been a lot of talk (and surprisingly little controversy) about the fact that Mitchell included explicit, real sex between in the actors in SHORTBUS, and I confess, I wasn’t sure how that would work for me in the context of the film. Would I keep popping out of the story while I watched thinking, “My God, they’re really having sex?” In the end, the sex turned out to be something of a non-issue. Sure it’s explicit, and it’s more realistic than most of the sex you see in the movies, but after the initial adjustment, it quickly became a fairly natural part of the story. Did there need to be authentic, explicit sex to make SHORTBUS work? Not in my opinion, but others might disagree.

"The film revolves around a handful of young people living in New York. There’s Sofia, a sex therapist (sorry, she prefers couples counselor) who has never experienced an orgasm despite the best, and most rambunctious efforts of her husband. James and Jamie, a gay couple who are looking for a third… but they’ve got some problems of their own. Severin is a dominatrix who longs to connect in a real relationship. Their lives intersect at Shortbus, a salon where people are encouraged to connect emotionally and sexually in an atmosphere or artistry and music. At Shortbus you might see a film someone made, see a musical performance, or take part in the non-stop orgy. With Shortbus acting as the backdrop, characters learn to open up and overcome their difficulties… all in 101 minutes!

"As I said above, Mitchell has made a sweet film that’s just filled with positive energy. I do think, however, that he is still learning his craft, and when it all comes together, we’re in for a real treat. With Shortbus, I found the screenplay fairly simplistic and contrived. There were also a couple of major turning points that were vague and unclear to me, even now after talking about it with others. Finally, while Lindsay Beamish’s Severin, and Jay Brannan’s Ceth were phenomenal, and Sook-Yin Lee was very good, Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy’s James and Jamie were pretty dreadful. Scot thought that perhaps my complaints about the screenplay were caused, or at least exacerbated by the limitations of the actors, but I think that’s being a little too forgiving.

"The best part of SHORTBUS for me was the humor. Mitchell writes a funny screenplay, and there are some good laughs (for the most part intentional) in the film. And as I said before, there’s a good heart behind the film too, so I will be generous and give it 3 ½ cats"