: John Cameron MitchellRated:
Unrated Fuck Critics Rating:
* * * * 1/2
Both praised and criticized for its blatant use of real sex scenes, John Cameron Mitchell’s (writer/director/actor of Hedwig & the Angry Inch
) second feature film, Shortbus
, manages to rise above the controversy surrounding its release with a story full of raunchiness, humor, and heart. In fact its such genuine filmaking that it’s hard to be critical of anything contained in the film. But it’s not completely flawless. There are some small cliches here and there. And those unfamiliar with underground culture might find some characters stereotypical, over the top, or downright ridiculous. But these are minor gripes. The story is of the layered variety, and as it unfolds it also absorbs these elements and they don’t interfere or feel obtrusive. There are things early on that might bar the easily offended, non-thinkers, and closed minded masses from wanting to proceed. Fall under any of those three and you might as well stop the DVD within the first five minutes. This movie’s definitely not for you. For adventurous types, I recommend proceeding, as there is much to be reaped from such fearless filmaking. For the jaded ones, I’m sure you don’t need any prompting.
Anywho, as things begin to roll we meet a handful of characters. A straight couple, of which the wife is a sex therapist, a gay couple, a dominatrix, and a voyeur, each with their own desires and demons, and with back stories to go with them. Eventually these characters converge at an underground club called ‘Shortbus,’ reminiscent of Denys Arcand’s Love & Human Remains
. In fact many elements of this film, including the tangled web of fickle love and possible relations, reminded me of the themes I enjoyed watching explored in that one. The skeletons come out of the closet, and the aforementioned desires & demons become interlocked, making bonds and reigning epiphanies, some of them false, down upon the characters’ heads. The way these threads play out is clever and realistic. It never seems forced or too convenient, or ever gets convoluted, like so many plots of this nature do. Mitchell stitches a thread that is virtually seamless.
Camera work in Indy cinema is usually a means only to carry the story, but here it’s used to immerse the viewer in the characters’ worlds. The shots are close and intimate when characters are interacting, and drawn back or shot at a distance when they’re involved in an intimate moment. Only when the intimacy is related to one character does the camera switch back to close-ups. And in one pivotal sexual scene the camera angle changes entirely, matching a rhythm with a chain of quickly inter-cut scenes. The only other film I’ve seen a chain of quick shots used so powerfully and effectively is Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream
. It’s an effective style for this type of film. There is also some eye-catching and interesting play with CGI to thread the characters together when they’re not interacting.
For non-actors, the performances had a lot of chemistry and realism. Which probably comes from natural interaction and, well, non-acting. There’s definitely a feel of being amongst old friends, and there’s never a breach of that feeling. This is also what propels the film along. The feeling of knowing these people and caring about their outcomes and how they’ll end up satisfying their needs. You see their pain, and unhappiness, and frustration, and their lusts played out and you’re there with them experiencing the roller coaster ride. It’s very well done, and should be a point of reference for any future directors/writers looking to do a character study or slice of life film.
Overall, this is a light hearted film that will make you laugh at inappropriate times and situations– including graphic sex. But there’s something richer and heavier at its core, beautiful moments interlaced with swift and dark currents. It will get under your skin and snag on the wrinkles of your brain more then a few times. However, it will do so without gimmicks or malice and you won’t feel violated by the bombardment. It’s a movie anyone of any race, sexuality, gender, or in-between can come away from with having gained something from its intentions, and a movie that reminds me why I’ve grown wary of mainstream film. You just have to be receptive to the subtle messages Mitchell has interlaced in his work and thoughtful enough to think them over.
==Ash 'Resident Art Fag' Kennedy