Uncomfortable bus ride
One of the very first things that “Shortbus” reveals to the audience is that it is set in New York City. Not only is it set there, but it is set in a post 9/11 New York City. With main characters living near the Ground Zero site and discussing the event freely in conversation, from the first minutes of the film it seems it may be a springboard for something dramatic in a good way. Although what it ends up being isn’t half bad, it comes nowhere close to what the viewer likely expects from the movie after its opening sequences.
The film presents itself in a way that would draw comparisons to films such as “Crash” or “Babel” where we meet a group of characters separated at the film’s beginning only to have them come together by the end. The problem “Shortbus” has is the usually delightful plot is intertwined with characters that have no background other than their sex lives and expects the viewer to care about what happens when they finally mingle.
The movie follows a bunch of people in a post 9/11 New York City trying to fight their sexual frustrations. Why 9/11 matters in the big scheme of these characters solving their problems and discovering their sexual identities is something that really is left up in the air. The audience is given a Canadian-Chinese couple’s counselor, her two patients who happen to be homosexuals in a monogamous relationship, a dominatrix who struggles with relationships and everyone else they meet along the way.
The homosexual partners visit a couples counselor for advice, find out she is sexually frustrated with her husband, and they, being the good patients they are, take her to an underground sexual society named Shortbus to set her free.
Generally movies that have any reference to the events of 9/11 do so with a sort of respect. It’s as if those involved with the film realize that being able to use the events is more of an honor than an actual privilege, and in so using this privilege everything that it incorporates should be respectful and tasteful. “Shortbus” is the first movie since the 9/11 attacks that simply uses it as a background plot point, instead of something that truly enhances the story. The result is somewhat of a disappointment.
What the film makers would like us to believe is that this film is an art piece, and for the scenes that really don’t include sex, it tends to be that way. But for those in the dark about the film’s content, it must be said, that most of the sex scenes that are placed into the film are real and not acted. When these types of scenes are thrown in between true character developments, it makes it hard to handle the seriousness that is taking place on screen when you just got out of an elaborate scene involving a group orgy and additionally knowing another one is likely on the way.
Sexuality is something films should be incorporating into themselves, not the other way around. If a film that has essentially everything to do with sex can at least get the audience to a comfortable enough spot to make it viewable without being disgusted or to a point where you care enough about the characters to be able to endure the sex scenes, that is one thing.
But what Shortbus does is give us a set of characters and expects us to care about them for no reason, which possibly explains the 9/11 reference. Despite this, the characters, who are played by first time, inexperienced actors who likely took the parts because no good actor would play them, don’t warrant enough sympathy to ever really care if they find the sexual healing they need, and unfortunately we are along for the ride.
Rating: 2 of 5 stars