Share via Email Unselfconscious comedy Shortbus There is a theory that for every event in the universe, some other, equal-and-opposite event is taking place. For every oak tree chopped down, somewhere an acorn is planted. For every imploding planet, a shooting star. And at the very instant Richard Curtis completed the script for his cutesy romcom Love, Actually, film-maker John Cameron Mitchell was hunched over his MacBook Pro, cackling devilishly and hitting the final full-stop key on his outrageous hardcore sex comedy Shortbus.
Persons of a nervous disposition should stop reading now. This film - a cheerful panorama of pervitude - starts the way it means to go on, by showing a supple young man bending double and giving himself a blowjob, complete with happy finish, a concept to which I will later return. It's a mainstream cinematic first, part of the achievement of which is to render permanently obsolete the joke about why dogs lick their privates. A dominatrix elicits a customer's splattering climax which augments a Jackson Pollock-ish canvas behind the bed.
A trio of gay men have a three-way which involves the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner into an anus. All the participants find themselves at a New York sex club called Shortbus, in which a mosh-pit of mass fornication is presided over by a transvestite madame-monsieur, who smiles benignly at the wobbling, thwacking flesh and says dreamily: It's like the 60s, but without the hope.
It's an entertaining film to compare with the freakiness of John Waters, or even that of Tod Browning. Even as I write these words, though, I sense the usual army of pundits approaching, who always respond to films about sex the same way.
Whatever these writers felt in the cinema auditorium, they always rediscover their inner unshockable sophisticate at the word processor and airily declare the film to have been "boring". Heavens, who are these satyrs, these epicures, so sated with their gluttonous sensuality, so exhausted with rolling around in their wine-stained togas, that they find these rare moments of sex on screen "boring"? They can sit through any amount of insupportable Hollywood dross or arthouse ramblings without ever being so ill-mannered as to use the b-word, but it's always sex that gets the ostentatious stifled-yawn treatment.
Really and truly, I think you would have to be doing five or six hours of internet porn a day to find "boring" your precise adjective of choice. Mitchell's movie persuasively finds comedy not merely in the conversation and general panic surrounding sex, but in the acts themselves - and the comedy is not solely in bathos, either, but in its tumescent opposite. In its way, Shortbus is quite as starry-eyed as any romcom, and the storyline about the sex therapist searching for an orgasm makes the picture's ending predictable.
A happy ending, however, is what it certainly is, which is the most subversive thing of all.