Jun 12, 2011

[Movies] Shortbus (2006)

Shortbus (2006)In my many years of writing and self-publishing online, it's interesting to note that I've written quite a number of reviews for this movie on different locations. But with how the Geeky Guide has more and more become my central vehicle of expression, I've been doing my best to consolidate such efforts here instead of keeping things spread out across the web.

This movie certainly comes with its fair share of controversy given its highly graphic nature, it's unsimulated sexual acts and the many concepts it throws around (yes, including the gay stuff). But at the same time it's a very strong artistic piece that aimed to convey a deeper message with sex being the metaphor (instead of metaphors being used to depict sex, as is the norm). A lot of people tend to scoff at this kind of an explanation since for them sex on screen is porn and nothing else. And then you get the more shallow folks who have gone out of their way to watch this movie since it does feel a lot like porn at times.

This movie means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Naturally I have my own somewhat complicated history with this particular movie and recently watching it again with my partner stirred some of those thoughts up. Ah well, such is life in the long run, I suppose. Everything will always remind you of something else, ad nauseam.

Shortbus is the 2006 comedic drama (or dramatic comedy?) written and directed by the talented John Cameron Mitchell, the same man who brought Hedwig and the Angry Inch to life. The plot of the movie is the result of over two years of collaborative conceptualization through various improvisation workshops.

Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy in August of 2008 on ...Image via WikipediaIn New York City around the period of the 2003 black outs. We start with former hustler James (Paul Dawson) and his partner, former child star Jamie (PJ DeBoy). James suggests to Jamie that they consider opening up the relationship and this leads to Jamie scheduling them for counseling. They end up with Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee), who eventually reveals that she's "pre-orgasmic" - that she's never had an orgasm in her life. They then recommend that she join them at a weekly artistic / sexual salon called "Shortbus" to see how that might help open her up to new experiences.

When she does go, she eventually meets Severin (Lindsay Beamish), who is a dominatrix who quickly forms an unusual friendship with her. Over time, her sexual relationship with her husband Rob (Raphael Barker) and he opts to try and join her at Shortbus to see what things are all about. James and Jamie meet Ceth (Jay Brannan), a former model and aspiring musician with whom they form a three-way sexual relationship. This angers Caleb (Peter Sickles), the stalker neighbor who lives across the street from their apartment.

These various plot lines continue to progress semi-independently of one another with numerous overlaps until we end up with one climactic culmination of events that brings everything together. And naturally this happens back at Shortbus, but we reach this point is the fun part.

The pretty much starts and ends with sex, and this may be the real shocker for most. It's not typical for an opening credits sequence to begin with multiple depictions of sex including a big finish with some auto-fellatio. But at the same time, it serves to shock you up front and help you get past your own inhibitions about the subject so that the rest of the movie flows easier. When you stop thinking about it as sex and start appreciating what it might mean in the greater scheme of things (with respect to the movie), then it'll make a LOT more sense. And to be fair, the sex isn't even that raunchy - Mitchell did his best to add artistic touches to such sequences without sacrificing the sheer real-ness of it all.

The entire cast has a very tight feel to it all - clearly the result of all the development time put into coming up with the story for this movie. It goes beyond just professional cameraderie - and this clearly comes up in pretty much every scene of the movie where you have the actors interacting with one another, especially during the Shortbus sequences.

Like most other gay men who have seen the film, I loved the chemistry between Dawson, DeBoy and Brannan. Together the three just worked on so many levels, it made their on-screen relationship the object of envy for many queers around the world. Being able to convey that sort of tender yet genuine connection between three individuals is an amazing feat in itself and credit has to go to both the actors and the director for giving us this "gift" of an experience. Hell, I know I watch those scenes and wonder if such three-way relationships might truly be possible and what that might mean in the long term.

Sook-Yin Lee is amazing as well in her role as Sophia. At first it just seems ridiculous for her to be some woman who has never (and believes can't) orgasmed. But over the course of the film you'll realize that this quirk of sorts is a strong representative of all of her other issues and life and it takes the counsel of the dominatrix Severin to help unlock those doors in her head.

Admittedly, Shortbus probably isn't for everyone (and that's already discounting the underaged members of the reading world). But should you come to watch it and realize its brilliance, you'll understand why I love this movie and continue to recommend it to critically-minded friends. It gets 5 remote-controlled vibrating eggs out of a possible 5.

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