In a New York forever conscious of the shadow of 9/11, we follow the sex lives and tribulations of a group of gay and straight characters. There’s the gay couple whose relationship is hitting a rocky patch. There’s the professional dominatrix who is finding it more and more difficult to face her work. And there’s the sex therapist who’s never had an orgasm. Her quest for same brings her into contact with the other characters, and to Shortbus, an eccentric sex club.
In the making-of featurette, writer/director John Cameron Mitchell describes where the idea for the film came from. He’d noticed the spate of serious European movies that featured real sex scenes, but also that they were all very dark. He wanted to make a sex-positive film. The intent is laudable, the performances are all convincingly natural (and CBC Radio host Sook-Yin Lee is very funny as the therapist), and there’s a wonderful conceit involving a CG table-top model of NYC through which the camera flies. And yet, one might be forgiven for longing for the explosive savagery of the likes of Baise-Moi. When the characters aren’t having sex, they talk about it. And talk, and talk, and talk. Half an hour in, both the action the discussion begin to grow tiresome. Characters that are supposed to be eccentric are annoyingly flaky, and one can’t help but wonder whether all these people don’t have anything better to with their time. So the film is earnest, sweet, and worthy, but needs something more to truly hold the viewer’s attention.
Both 5.1 and 2.0 options are available here, but there isn’t much to choose between them. The score might be a bit louder, and have a bit more rear-speaker presence in the 2.0 version, but this is a matter of nuance. The main reason the tracks are effectively identical is that there is no surround to speak of. The sound design is generally rather bland, but is free of distortion.
There are some moments (usually nighttime exteriors) which are grainy, but this is not a problem of the transfer itself. The colours are generally very natural (but can also be pleasingly bright, as in the case of the CG vision of New York). Flesh tones are good (phew!), as are the contrasts, and there are no edge enhancement problems. Solid stuff, generally.
Mitchell is joined by four cast members on the commentary track, and while he seems interested in describing how the movie was made, his cohorts keep interrupting him and clowning around. It’s not the most insy commentary track made, but it isn’t as good as “Gifted and Challenged: The Making of Shortbus.” This featurette is arguably more fascinating than the movie itself, and is often very funny. “How to Shoot Sex: A Docu-Primer” is behind-the-scenes footage of the big orgy scene in the club, and can be viewed with or without commentary from Mitchell and Lee. There are eight deleted/alternate scenes, again with optional commentary. The trailers take the form of the theatrical and Internet versions, and the teaser. Trailers for other new releases are, of course, also present.
I feel like something of a sourpuss for being all dark on the film and not getting in on the party, but there we go. It isn’t bad, though.