Shortbus is funny, serious, and very sex-positive

B+ sexual romance
Written & directed by John Cameron Mitchell

Jon Cameron Mitchell created a funny, serious, sexual, and asexual movie, and gave it the seemingly ridiculous title Shortbus. It contains a considerable amount of hardcore sex (mostly male-on-male). But it mostly deals with the emotional issues connected with sex – along with the emotional issues connected with not having sex.

The movie begins with a wordless demonstration of yoga and masturbation. We soon meet James and Jamie, two young men living together monogamously (Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy). But Jamie wants to open up their relationship. So, they go to a sex therapist, Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee), who turns out to need sex therapy more than they do. She has never experienced orgasm and has been faking it with her husband for years. And so, Sofia goes on a quest for a climax.

If all this sounds like a movie you’ve seen before, you may be right. Shortbus was originally released in 2006. It’s been out of circulation for some years. Oscilloscope Laboratories recently restored the movie in 4K digital. I didn’t see Shortbus the first time around, so it’s a new review of an old movie.

But why Shortbus? I don’t think it’s a tiny-penis joke. The phrase short bus is slang for an unusually small school bus, but that doesn’t help much. Within the story of the film, Shortbus is a very happy sex club with that name. People are doing it all over the place, and the people who aren’t having sex are talking about it. This is nothing like the depressing orgy in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Everyone is very, very nice, and no one hides behind a mask. It’s a safe place to be.

Both inside and outside the club, the problems and joys of sex are always there. James and Jamie’s issues seem insurmountable – but maybe not. And there’s a peeping tom photographing them from across the street (the film was made and set in Manhattan).

The film is often quite funny. Sophia inserts a vibrating egg into her vagina, but she gives the remote control to her husband – she thinks that will be sexy. But he puts the remote in his back pocket and forgets about it. Every time he sits down or leans on the wall…well, you can imagine.

Although some of the sex is real, Shortbus never feels like porn. Mitchell seems more interested in the character’s faces than the actors’ genitalia. His film celebrates sexuality, while dealing with its emotional problems, as well. And it does in an entertaining way.

Shortbus opens Friday, February 11 at the Roxie.