Shortbus (2006)

Shortbus
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Writer: John Cameron Mitchell (together with the cast)
Cast: Paul Dawson, Sook-Yin Lee, PJ DeBoy, Lindsay Beamish, Jay Brannan, Raphael Barker, Peter Stickles, Mx Justin Vivian Bond
Seen on: 18.4.2022

Content Note: stalking

Plot:
Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) is a couples’ counselor. She herself is happily married to Rob (Raphael Barker). But in her first session with James (Paul Dawson) and Jamie (PJ DeBoy), she has a bit of a breakdown and finally confides in them that she has never had an orgasm herself. James and Jamie, who actually wanted help with the growing distance between them, in part due to James’ depression, and were thinking of opening up their relationship, invite Sofia to Shortbus, a club run by Justin Bond (Mx Justin Vivian Bond) filled with queerness, art and sex. That invitatione sets all of them on new paths.

Shortbus is a movie made for queer people, extending a kind of safe space for the audience where everybody is welcome and free to explore. A part of that is also sexual exploration, but that’s only one part of a grander vision of queer community.

The film poster showing about 20 (clothed) people lying together in a pile.

Shortbus has been talked about a lot due to its explicit sex scenes, a fact that will certainly catch the eye of the mainstream audience. But much like with queerness, it isn’t really about the sex – though of course, who we’re attracted to and how we relate to sexuality and our bodies in general, is a part of it and no small one. In the end, though, it’s about connecting – to yourself and to others – and to build a community outside of heteronormativity.

It’s a very earnest film with big ideals that sometimes gets carried away a little. I wouldn’t have been so quick to forgive the stalker (Peter Stickles) and give him a place within shortbus – probably the part that I struggled most with. Some limitations and boundaries are good, actually.

Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) and Rob (Raphael Barker) facing each other in a therapeutic confrontation.

The characters – they and their storylines developed by the cast together with Mitchell – vary greatly in their complexity. Sofia’s search for an orgasm felt a little oversimplified, as did Severin’s (Lindsay Beamish) abrasiveness. Since we don’t get to spend that much time with Severin, it’s easier to look past this than with Sofia who is probably the character who gets the most screentime.

Still, as a queer person, it was easy to feel connected to Shortbus, both the club and the film. We need more films that are so unapologetically queer and open. Shortbus is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve – and that’s quite a gift.

Jamie (PJ DeBoy) and James (Paul Dawson) in Shortbus.

Summarizing: lovely.

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