GO­ING ALL THE WAY

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - Don­ald Clarke

SHORT­BUS ★★★ Di­rected by John Cameron Mitchell. Star­ring Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Daw­son, Lind­say Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Raphael Barker, Peter Stick­les Club, IFI, Dublin, 102 min IF YOU know any­thing about John Cameron Mitchell’s lu­bri­cious fol­low-up to Hed­wig and the An­gry Itch, that sin­gu­lar gay mu­si­cal from 2001, you will be aware that it con­tains scenes of ac­tual sex­ual in­ter­course.

Mitchell has pointed out that pre­vi­ous cin­e­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of The Whole En­chi­lada – think of the grubby, un­happy fum­blings in musty apart­ments we didn’t en­joy in In­ti­macy and 9 Songs – have tended to be ac­com­pa­nied by cold, pu­ri­tan­i­cal show­ers of guilt and mis­ery (this is art, not porn, you see). Mitchell, by con­trast, wants to show the sex­ual act as a source of joy and ful­fil­ment.

Sure enough, the open­ing se­quence of Short­bus, in which we are trans­ported around Man­hat­tan to dis­cover a num­ber of char­ac­ters hard at it, does buzz with good hu­mour. The man try­ing to do to him­self what is usu­ally done by an­other may have a strained re­la­tion­ship with his ab­sent boyfriend, but he seems tem­po­rar­ily con­tent in his ex­per­i­ments. The dom­i­na­trix ap­pears to be car­ry­ing out her du­ties to the client’s sat­is­fac­tion. The straight cou­ple cer­tainly make happy noises as they crash about the place.

Whether the au­di­ence will have quite so much fun will de­pend greatly on the broad­ness of their minds and the ex­tent of their in­cli­na­tions to­wards sex­ual voyeurism.

That damp jam­boree over, the film re­solves it­self into a lively down­town soap opera. Sev­eral re­lated sto­ries weave their way about the city, be­fore twin­ing to­gether at the sex club that lends the film its ti­tle. The gay cou­ple ex­pands to a menage à trois as a way of bring­ing ex­cite­ment back into their rela- tion­ship. A Chi­nese-Cana­dian ther­a­pist tries to dis­cover why she can never reach or­gasm. The dom­i­na­trix re­veals that she has taken the pro­fes­sional ti­tle Sev­erin as a re­place­ment for a given name that matches that of a pop­u­lar celebrity.

Mak­ing imag­i­na­tive use of a gor­geous lit­tle model of Man­hat­tan and draw­ing re­spectable per­for­mances from a largely in­ex­pe­ri­enced cast, Mitchell en­ables Short­bus to gen­er­ate im­pres­sive quan­ti­ties of warmth and hu­man­ity. But the sheer nar­cis­sism of Mitchell’s he­roes, all of whom do to them­selves fig­u­ra­tively what that auto-eroti­cist does lit­er­ally, fast be­comes hard to bear. Smug­ness flows out of ev­ery ex­posed bo­hemian ori­fice and the char­ac­ters’ in­abil­ity to see past their tri­fling sex­ual hangups is ul­ti­mately rather frus­trat­ing.Would it kill them to read a book or watch a bit of telly?

A de­cent bit of off-kil­ter en­ter­tain­ment for all that.

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