Shortbus is an engagingly funny, emotionally honest, joyfully romantic drama exploring the modern relationships of a group of New Yorkers. Written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), his characters are an agreeably diverse lot: Sofia, a sex therapist who loves her husband but has never had an orgasm; Jamie, a former child star who loves everybody, "especially cute people"; his boyfriend, James, a former hustler turned Jacuzzi lifeguard; and Severin, an acerbic dominatrix who, like most everyone else in the film, just wants to feel something. Together and separately, they converge on a weekly gathering called Shortbus, an underground salon "for the gifted and challenged"; a mad nexus of art, music, politics and carnal pleasure. As one character dryly notes in what must surely be thought of as the film's signature line, "It's just like the '60s, only with less hope." In tracing the physical and spiritual connections of this group in their 20s and 30s, Shortbus is a film full of sex - real people having actual sex - in various gender permutations, which, in the currently divisive political and cultural climate becomes a gesture of radical purpose. Mitchell's idea was to make a thought-provoking, emotionally challenging and hopefully funny film that could also be sexually frank. To treat sex as a facet of our shared existence rather than taboo material, and sex that is refreshingly frisky and celebratory, not negative or dreary. As a result, Mitchell has achieved something that was on many a serious director's mind 30 years ago: the coherent integration of explicit sex scenes into a naturalistic story film. Along the way, Mitchell brilliantly captures the yearning of people who can't quite arrive where they want to be in life. Set in a post-9/11, Bush-exhausted New York City, Shortbus' boldest provocation may be its exuberant celebration of community and togetherness, suggesting new ways to reconcile questions of the mind, pleasures of the flesh and imperatives of the heart. A true cinematic gift and joyous celebration, Shortbus will help to define a generation. Mitchell has made a film both of and about his times, and one genuinely fuelled with love.
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