Pioneering film critic Pauline Kael once said about her career that she was honoured to have been working as a critic during the 60s and 70s - a time she felt filmmakers still took risks and dared making controversial movies. I think my biggest compliment to John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus is that this is one such film that Kael would be happy to review. It is a daring, groundbreaking and playful film about almost anything sexual - except the most ordinary.
The power of Shortbus isn't about narrative, but about character and situation. It's an inside look at a New York gay scene spiced up with some heterosexuals (but arguably not your average types) here and there. Mitchell is inventive and playful, but most of all bold, as he includes more graphic sex than any other non-pornographic film I've ever seen. What's good is the respect, warmth and carefreeness with which it is presented. The performers look to have a lot of fun too, as the level of creativity is maintained also when it comes to the sexual interactions.
Unfortunately, Mitchell isn't as daring thematically as he is graphically. Sure, the film grazes almost every possible subject when it comes to sexual themes, but most of it is either done a bit too neatly, or with some lack of realism and knowledge (the Sook-Yin Lee character is the least authentic). Some characters (James, Jamie, Tobias) work much better than others (Sofia, Rob, Severin), but the film has an edgy and amusing dialogue throughout, and some great visual compositions. This is where Mitchell hits his peak. Alas, his all too neat and convenient wrap-up ultimately makes the film a tad too lightweight to make a lasting emotional impact.