Shocking, explicit, edgy, writer/director John Cameron Mitchell tries taking over the mantle as a modern-day Federico Fellini with Shortbus.
Handsome James (Paul Dawson) is a bit depressed. In the opening scene, he pees while taking a bath and then sets up his camera as he fellates himself while a stalker across the street (Peter Stickles) watches. Then, James cries. He's miserable, and his boyfriend Jamie (P.J. DeBoy) doesn't know what to do. They go to a sex therapist, Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee). She, in turn, has incredible sex--or at least finds incredible positions--with her husband Rob (Raphael Barker), but she can't achieve an orgasm. They all end up at a wild club called Shortbus, which looks like a room even Caligula would love, and whose guests range from a former mayor of New York to a popular drag queen, Justin Bond (playing his/herself). It's at Shortbus where James and Jamie meet young Ceth (Jay Brannan) and to try to add spice to their relationship, while Sofia meets an angry dominatrix named Severin (Lindsay Beamish), who thinks she can help with Sofia's quest.
The most amazing part of Shortbus comes from the performers, who are as real as it gets. Mitchell tries to get the actors to play parts of themselves, asking them to reenact their most bizarre sexual experiences and developing the storylines around them. With that, Mitchell is quoted in the press notes as saying that every orgasm is genuine--except one, and he's not saying which one. For this reason perhaps, the cast is filled with virtual unknowns, except for a few choice cameos (character actor/publicist Mickey Cottrell with a dead guy in a whirlpool is a particularly good one). But the players are all superb in their own individual ways, especially Dawson as the sad-eyed stud, and Lee as the desperate therapist. Beamish also shows quite an emotional range and looks like a modern-day Cyndi Lauper. Watch for her star to rise.
John Cameron Mitchell, best known for his searing little indie gem, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, apparently auditioned 100 people by throwing a rather sexually open party, not unlike the parties shown in the film. But Mitchell has got more than an inch showing up in Shortbus. It's as if he has re-made The Rocky Horror Picture Show into a non-musical, live NC-17 version. All the film"s sexual explicitness seems almost voyeuristic, but dances around being pornographic or grotesque. In fact, the scenes are often devoid of eroticism, coming across as funny, creepy and sad instead. Mitchell also paints an intriguing canvas, mixing animation and art as the camera swoops into different neighborhoods around Manhattan. Ultimately, the parade of sexuality and bizarre characters plays like a Federico Fellini film, but it makes much more sense. Mitchell's picture is raw but heartfelt, and it"s going to make audiences uncomfortable. But obviously, that's the point.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.