Any movie that opens with a buff young stud sucking his own cock is sure to provoke moral outrage. Any movie that follows such an acrobatic act of self-pleasuring with a heterosexual couple live-flip-fucking through the Kama Sutra before one guy trumpets ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ into another guy’s anus is... a meditation on New Yorkers in post-9/11 existential crisis?
Well, yes. It’s also a study of how entwined bodies and combined minds are often two very different things, each plugged orifice only widening the emotional chasm. Disillusioned, disconnected characters hop on and off this merry-go-round of love, trying different partners – genders, even – as they quest for a fulfilment that extends beyond a shuddering orgasm. Make no mistake: Shortbus may lack the catalogue looks, GSOH and, almost certainly, staying power of Woody Allen’s classic, but it’s a (pansexual) Manhattan for our times: anxious and joyous.
Not that we ever really care about the protagonists’ neuroses. Or, for that matter, writer/director John Cameron Mitchell’s half-hearted attempts to politicise his movie. What does register are the warm performances, generosity of spirit, frisky wit and exuberant soundtrack (no surprise given Mitchell’s tangy musical Hedwig And The Angry Inch), as Shortbus ultimately ditches its fretting in favour of having a damn good knees up. The final scene in particular is a belter, Mitchell bending over backwards to make our pleasure glands throb.
And the sex? Deliberately untitillating, each slap’n’squelch offering a flash of character exposition as it services plot over dirty mac brigade. Cronenberg achieved a similar effect with Crash, albeit with less frivolity and fewer penetration shots, while movies like Intimacy and 9 Songs have delivered on Kubrick’s dream of making a ‘blue movie’ for mainstream viewers. Shortbus, however, goes that extra inch, its fun but functional fucking de-smutting the ‘sex movie’ as surely as high street chain Harmony sanitised the grot shop.
The most curiously heart-warming movie you’ll see this, or any other, year.