Shortbus (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy)

For those of us who love screen nudity, the Holy Grail is a great movie with great nudity. It's never really happened. There are been great movies with some nudity, and there has been great nudity in watchable films, but great/great is always been out of reach. The best we could hope for has been a pretty good movie with excellent nudity. Movies with spectacular nudity, like 9 Songs, are just never great movies, and the truly great movies like The Godfather never seem to have that much nudity at all. Why hasn't our Grail been found? Well, a big part of the problem, maybe all of the problem, is that real-time sex simply screws up a movie's pacing. Story-telling is all about forward progress and pacing, and a script writer has only about 90 minutes to grab our attention and spin his yarn. It is simply not possible to show several real-time sex scenes, taking several minutes each, in a worthwhile 90-minute drama. In terms of narrative, sex scenes are just long stretches when nothing happens. That is the problem with The Lover, for example, a magnificently photographed film - a genuine work of visual art - which has some damned good sex scenes. It's only a great movie when the sex isn't happening. And it only has great nudity in the boring part of the film. It has the core of great nudity and great filmmaking, but they never come together. I suppose the the two films which best integrate substantial nudity into the fabric of a pretty good film are Basic Instinct and Sirens.

Shortbus comes, very, very close to what we have been seeking. It is a wise and honest ensemble dramedy about modern relationships. I don't even like that kind of movie in general, but I liked this one. The music is good. The jokes are good - I laughed out loud a couple of times. The drama works - I was emotionally invested in the story, and profoundly moved a few times. The characters, even the quirkiest ones, are human and believable, and I was rooting for them. The film is technically excellent, and marvelously inventive, with more than a touch of magic. The sex is explicit, and doesn't go on too long to slow the story down. In fact, the sex scenes are all interesting to watch for some reason or another, because the characters are communicating in some way which is integral to the story or at least to maintaining a high level of energy and entertainment.

"So," you are wondering, "why is the film only 'close' to our goal?"

I think Shortbus very well could have been our Holy Grail if the storylines had been split into two separate movies, one for the straight audience, one for the gay. It would have been a simple matter. There are basically two complete storylines.

  • On the one hand there is a woman who has never had an orgasm. This is particularly ironic, since she's a sex therapist. Her euphemism for her condition is that she is "pre-orgasmic," but nobody knows what the hell that means. One guy hears her use the term, then asks, "Does that mean you're just about to have one?" and steps back to give her some additional room! Half of the movie is about her quest for the big O.

  • The other storyline is about a monogamous homosexual couple which has come to a crisis in the relationship because one of the partners is profoundly depressed. The two men look for answers - and their search includes a consultation with a relationship therapist - which circles back to the other story.

As it stands, the film is ... er ... polymorphous. Is that the word I'm looking for? The sexual activities take every shape possible. There are guys having daisy chains with other guys. There is masturbation by both sexes. There is heterosexual sex. There's even a guy who can blow himself - and swallows! In all honesty, this is not what I want to watch. Homosexual sex doesn't repulse me, but it doesn't interest me either, so when the guys were getting it on, there wasn't anything on screen that I was interested in. Let's face it, I don't have any interest in watching some naked guys lickin' and suckin' away and jackin' each other's beanstalks. Unfortunately for me, as you can see from the nudity summary below, the male nudity is far more explicit and prolific than the female, so it's actually more of a gay-oriented film. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it is actually an explicit gay movie with some hetero sex thrown in as a smokescreen.

So the film came close to ringing the carnival bell but ultimately won no cigar. Unless you're gay.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Be that as it may, Shortbus is still a good movie, close to a great one. I think I can say I would have loved the film if all the relationships had been hetero and the sex scenes had all involved at least one woman. That's the upside, and I've told you the downside, so I recommend the film for anyone who is not scared off by my description. I have a feeling that's a pretty small audience, which is something of a shame, but a reality.

Shortbus DVD (Mainstream Goes Explicit) 2006


  • 52 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes

  • A "making of" featurette"

  • "How to shoot sex," a documentary about the orgy scene

  • Full-length director and cast commentary

  • widescreen anamorphic transfer of the film itself (special features are letterboxed or 4:3)


  • The four major male characters all do full frontal and rear nudity, with erections and come climaxes

  • There is additional nudity (explicit masturbation) in the deleted scenes from the guy in the bondage scene with the dominatrix

  • Sook-Yin Lee and Shanti Carson do full frontal nudity and have unsimulated sex on camera, but are not gynecologically exposed. Lindsay Beamish shows only one nipple.

  • Various extras engage in unsimulated sex in the orgy scenes.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: about 2 stars out of four. James Berardinelli 2/4, BBC 2/5.


The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+, a classic cult film - not for the mainstream, but those who like it will like it very much.

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