James Cameron Mitchell was never going to make a movie about fluffy bunnies, but with Shortbus and its heavily influenced counterculture, this piece has been largely misinterpreted. Viewed as pornographic or a pseudo-sexual farce, it ignores the large amount of time given over to how sex alone is not enough and even more so, that sex itself is not always about arousal.
Mitchell’s plot gravitates around James (Paul Dawson), a soft-spoken gay man who cannot connect with his partner of 5 years Jamie (PJ DeBoy) and believes an open relationship may be panacea for the pain; their sex therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) who just can’t hit that high note with husband Rob (Raphael Barker); and Severin (Lindsay Beamish), a dominatrix incapable of connecting with anyone other than with a cat-o-nine-tails.
Sex and sexuality, despite their prominence within the story and overall arcs of each character are simply the means through which they often escape their own loneliness, but never solving it. Despite all the time given over to what would otherwise be graphic representations of real masturbation and sexual congress between men, women and the unsure, the general mysticism that American cinema tends to apply to sex; it is neither violent, edited or filtered but instead funny, tender and unglamorous.
Everything, including the characters themselves are a bit ridiculous at times, a fact they themselves are aware of throughout. In tandem with the honest portrayal of sexuality, the metaphors and emotions that accompany such unions never feel leaden or forced, never dampening the intensity elsewhere. Just like in any good musical, sex scenes are so well integrated that they are nothing short of natural. It’s almost like watching a production of Rent you’re capable of enjoying (and seeing a version of the “Star Spangled Banner” you never knew you needed to see).
The club Shortbus itself, apparently a slang term for the bus that special needs children take to school, provides a sanctuary for the weird and wonderful, where they will never feel pigeonholed by society. Like the sex itself, this lovable bunch of freaks and voyeurs are presented in such a matter of fact manner, the characters can be surrounded by the outright strange and still muse on their situations; one such scene between Ceth (Jay Brannan) and Tobias, the former Mayor (Alan Mendell, both eviscerating and giving life to Ed Koch) asking what it is we’re all running from.
Naiveté and unbounded optimism wins out in the end for a climax both musical and otherwise that although does not feel like a full conclusion to the story continues on the same exuberance and vitality that it doesn’t betray the overall vision of Mitchell’s; enjoy life and don’t let yourself get too weighed down that you miss out on the little