Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Raphael Barker, Peter Stickles, Jay Brannan, Bitch
Written by: John Cameron Mitchell
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: with English subtitles
Running Time: 101
Date: 05/20/2006

Shortbus (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sex and the Nitty Gritty

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Cameron Mitchell, the triple-threat filmmaker behind the exuberant Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) turns in his sophomore effort while remaining squarely behind the camera. (Sad, because his performance as Hedwig was that film's strongest factor.) Not surprisingly, the graphic sex on display in Shortbus has eclipsed all other considerations, including the fact that it's a fairly interesting movie. As with Hedwig, Mitchell brings a stagy theatricality to the new film, which is set mainly in the sex club of the title. But at the same time, he attempts to "open up" his material, converting it to cinematic proportions (the great, transitional "miniature model" images of New York City add to the film's wistful feel). The main focus is on sex therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) and her husband Rob (Raphael Barker), who converse in psychiatrist-speak ("I understand your anger and I acknowledge it"). Sofia counsels a gay couple, sad, soulful James (Paul Dawson) and the slightly dim Jamie (PJ DeBoy), and reveals that she's been faking her orgasms. They invite her to the club, and a multi-character pastiche begins. Sofia meets the dominatrix Bitch (played by herself) and the two begin sessions together, each trying to get to the center of the other's sexual shortcomings. Mitchell gets a lovely, streamlined emotional pull from the material, but the theatrical limitations prevent any kind of a major breakthrough. Mitchell reportedly developed the story with the aid of his largely amateur cast.

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