Review by Jack Foley
THE opening moments of Shortbus consist of a man and a woman having graphic sex in all manner of positions, another lone man attempting to perform felatio on himself and a female dominatrix whipping her latest client into an orgasmic frenzy.
But while it capably sets the tone for the jaw-dropping sexual exploits that follow, it fails to stimulate the comic or intellectual reaction that writer-director John Cameron Mitchell undoubtedly was seeking to achieve.
As a movie, Shortbus is designed to explore contemporary attitudes to sex in post 9/11 New York. It follows a group of men and women as they attempt to find emotional liberation by pursuing their deepest sexual fantasies at a club of the same name.
Curiously, it’s only when confronted by the real world that problems arise and their own insecurities and fears give rise to some difficult life decisions.
Mitchell’s cast is comprised mostly of unknowns who throw themselves gamely into the various sexual escapades thrown at them by the director’s debauched screenplay (all of their orgasms are real, we’re told).
The characters in question include sex therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee), who has never had an orgasm despite repeated attempts, gay couple Jamie (PJ DeBoy) and James (Paul Dawson), who are debating whether to bring a third party into their ailing relationship, and dominatrix Severin (Lindsay Beamish), who considers herself a loner in all other aspects of life.
All find themselves drawn to Shortbus, the club where art and sex combine and people are free to be who they want to be and have sex with as many partners as they desire, guilt-free.
Yet as brave, provocative and daring as this scenario sounds, the film ultimately feels like a wasted endeavour.
Those in search of cheap thrills will undoubtedly find that most of the sex scenes lack anything to titilate, while those in search of intellectual stimulation will similarly find themselves faced with an empty experience.
Most if not all of the characters are self-absorbed time-wasters who fail to attract any audience sympathy, while their tragedies and dilemmas lack any interest whatsoever.
Shortbus has the look and feel of a great cult movie that’s steeped in arthouse values. It also has a certain cool vibe attached to it because of its themes and graphic material.
But don’t let the clever marketing campaign or hype from Cannes suck you in – it’s more porn movie than romantic comedy and really deserves to be treated as such.
Running time: 101mins