Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I watched a really interesting movie Monday night called Shortbus. It's by the writer and director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which I haven't seen but understand it has a loyal cult following. I hadn't heard as much about Shortbus outside of the few reviews I saw at the time of its limited theatrical release, which were generally positive.

The most unusual thing about the movie is its sexual content. The actors are all unknowns, and they are all very very brave. Because the sex scenes are real. These people are actually doing these things, and the camera is right in there showing you what's happening. It's unsettling, especially the opening montage, but it all serves a purpose too. Unlike pornographic films, the sex scenes in Shortbus aren't there to excite you or get you off. All of them serve a purpose in the story, and contain important character moments.

Still, if that was all the movie had going for it it wouldn't really be worth checking out. Fortunately there's a good movie wrapped around those scenes that is compelling and genuinely emotionally gratifying. It's the story of several strangers with emotional baggage that impacts their personal (and sexual) lives. Their paths cross at an underground sex club in post 9/11 New York called Shortbus (for people with "special needs", get it?). Here one of the main characters, a couples councilor who's never had an orgasm, seeks her own sort of therapy. Meanwhile a young man, an ex-escort, struggles with a severe depression resulting from the emotional walls he's built to protect himself, but which prevent him from having a healthy relationship with his boyfriend.

The movie also has a fantastic soundtrack. There are several scenes in the club, which also serves as a kind of cabaret, with live musicians playing in the background. And even a big musical climax at the end of the movie. Some of the artists on the soundtrack are pretty well known, like Yo La Tengo and The Animal Collective. But there are several other indie artists that I'd never heard of and are fantastic. There are several songs by Scott Matthew (who I believe is the main musical performer in the actual movie), and one particularly nice one by Jay Brannan who plays one of the main characters. Most of the music is acoustic indie rock, with a little electronica thrown in. It's a great mix, and probably the nicest surprise about the movie for me.

I recommend the film to anyone who doesn't find its frank content objectionable. The movie is wonderfully hopeful, often very funny. It even deals with the aftermath of 9/11 in an honest and personal way that I haven't seen in any other movie. Check it out if you're not sure what movie to Netflix next.

New York Times review
Chicago Sun Times review

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