TIFF Review: Shortbus

The American Heritage dictionary defines pornography as: “Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal” while Dictionary.com says it is “obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, esp. those having little or no artistic merit.” Using those definitions, know this: despite what you might have heard or read, John Cameron Mitchell‘s brilliant new film Shortbus is most decidedly not pornographic. As Tom Lehrer wrote in his genius pro-porn tune, “Smut”: “To be smut it has to be ut-terly without redeeming social importence.” Mitchell’s film is beautiful, sexy, smart, sensitive, loving, incisive, relevant and a whole host of other adjectives, all of which fall squarly under the rubric of socially important.

When I was in Cannes I wrote about the Shortbus party and how amazing an experience it was. Well, it only partially prepared me for the film, as last week I finally caught up with Mitchell’s upcoming bit of genius and I couldn’t be more happy that I did. The most original, thought provoking and moving film I’ve seen in a long while, Shortbus squeezes heart, pathos, drama, (lots of) comedy and even a musical performance, or two into less than two hours. (Pssst! In case you don’t already know, it’s got Sex!)
Shortbus‘ hook, so’s to speak, is hardcore gay and hetero sex (apparently, no orgasms were simulated in the making of this movie), yet the wonderful thing about the film is that Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) has managed to pull off a fantastic feat: at no time does the sex seem gratuitous or unnecessary. I’ll admit to having been skeptical, even after all the fantastic word of mouth at Cannes. I just wasn’t sure how Mitchell was going to pull off this “it’s not about the sex, stupid” sex movie. I mean, I knew he was a talented filmmaker, but this was a monumental task of sorts. Well, I needn’t have fretted. The film is, all hyperbole aside, the sweetest, most authentic look at love, loss, sex and modern relationships I’ve ever seen.
While the sex is certainly in your face (nudge nudge, wink wink!) it is in no way exploitative. On one hand, the sex is the engine that drives the story forward but in another, more important sense, the sex is, well…just there, you know? Set amid a group of disconnected group of dissatisfied twenty-somethings, the film tells their rapidly intertwining story of the search for human relations in the huge and occasionally terrifying world of modern New York City. The sex is an important part of the story (as it is with all of us) and never simply an excuse to see some fucking. (Don’t get me wrong, however, there’s some spectacularly real, honest, excellent, grade-A rutting going on, here!)
The resulting experience is a deeply moving and personal story of love, loss and humanity in the 21st century. Boldly entertaining, Shortbus has a soft and vulnerable core that only leads you to realize that John Cameron Mitchell is a sweet man who cares deeply about his fellow beings but is not above taking them down a peg with a wicked sense of humor and don’t we all need a swift kick in the pants, now and then? Sex is an important part of all of our lives, either by its presence or its absence and Mitchell and his band of extremely talented newcomers (and new cummers) are the belles and beaus of the new cinema ball!
Shortbus will be released by ThinkFilm in New York City on October 4th and Los Angeles & San Francisco on October 6th. Make it a point to support the film on opening weekend and remember, we all get it in the end!

Other reviews of Shortbus:
Tom Hall’s Back Row Manifesto…TWHiii nails it once again: Toronto 2006 | Ideas And Liberation

All photos © Think Film Company Inc.

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