Though its rapid succession of graphically uncensored sex scenes will undoubtedly scare away the prudish audiences, director John Cameron Mitchell’s (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) provocative new film, “Shortbus,” is much more than a run-on-the-mill raunchfest. It’s a cinematic ode to post-Sept. 11 New York City – an homage created solely to push its audience toward seeing what’s beyond the surface of things.

Angela Cesere
“It appears, my dear, that you have no tongue.” (Courtesy of ThinkFilm)

Like Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” “Shortbus” uses backdrops of the famed city to complement stories of incorrigible characters in love and lust. But while the former used romantic shots of the city’s skyline as relief from the non-stop narcissism of its characters, “Shortbus” instead aggressively imposes an audience voyeurism, zooming in from the darkly drawn skies of an animated New York to the three-dimensional lives and sexcapades of a troubled group of 20 and 30-somethings.

The stories we find aren’t always written – or acted – perfectly. But there’s something incorruptibly real, and ultimately moving, about the people we meet. Fitting, considering many of the actors helped pen “Shortbus” with Mitchell.

We meet the adorable Sophia, a sex therapist who’s never had an orgasm. She befriends two of her clients, a gay couple with sexual issues of their own, and the three eventually end up in Shortbus, a pleasure palace where the sexually starved and bored come to chat, drink and solve problems by getting off.

Of course, the most explicit scenes occur here, but with no gratuitousness. Despite a glimpse here and there of breasts, bare buttocks and stimulation, our attention is pretty much glued to Sophia and her journey into her new world.

John Cameron Mitchell managed to stage tragedy and comedy incredibly well with his avant-garde musical “Hedwig and the Angry Itch” a few years ago, and he does so again with “Shortbus.” The stories feature main characters struggling with deeper issues beneath their sexual dysfunctions, and they’re seamlessly pieced together, each convincingly doing justice to heartbreak without neglecting its humor. And their discomforting resonance actually has less to do with sex than with the characters’ surroundings – New York City. Mitchell never takes a clear position, but when a character reveals that she wants to leave the city because the rising cost of living after Sept. 11, deeper worries than sexual dissatisfaction are certainly implied.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

At the State Theater

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