review for Shortbus on AllMovie

Shortbus (2006)
by Michael Buening review

Shortbus is an admirable, but unsuccessful attempt to meld explicit sex, comedy, and a New York indie-style narrative into "smart porn." After opening with a playfully enjoyable sex sequence that crosscuts between Jamie (PJ DeBoy) engaging in a startling act of autofellatio, Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) and her husband, Rob (Raphael Barker), in an energetic romp around their apartment, and dominatrix Severin (Lindsay Beamish) with a spoiled rich client in a hotel room overlooking the World Trade Center site, the story proceeds in earnest with a series of rote dialogue scenes establishing the characters' sexual frustrations. This pretty much establishes the template for the film: cute and imaginative visual sequences coupled with lengthy disengaging psychobabble from the characters. Sofia, who has never had an orgasm, and Jamie, who has difficulties with emotional and physical engagement, are the two central leads. Given their endless emoting, the resolution to their problems (a good screw) seems awfully simplistic. Director John Cameron Mitchell attempts to enliven the action with some clumsily staged screwball comedy that, combined with the inexperience of the actors, leads to the film's most thudding-where-they-should-be-flying moments. Mitchell has mentioned wanting to recapture a New York City underground artistic climate of old. In this respect, the Shortbus party sequences, led by drag stalwart Justin Bond, are successful in evoking a world that combines the backroom freakishness of Peter Gatien's clubs with a free-love ethos of the '60s and '70s. The inclusion of New York artists like JD Samson, affecting singer/songwriter Scott Matthew, and music from Animal Collective contributes to the atmosphere. Shortbus' gentle, satiric nature is best realized in a sex scene set to the "Star Spangled Banner"; however, the likable details can't make up for flawed characters, bad dialogue, and a poor story.