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John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, which is witty and exhilarating and a tad graphic in its approach to fucking, concerns an overlapping pack of contemporary New Yorkers. One among them is Jamie, who found sitcom stardom as a boy by playing a white kid adopted by a rich black family. Now he’s an endearing moron in love with James, whom he met while researching a role as a street hustler. Despite an enviable talent for autofellatio, James is depressed and untrusting, and the lovers seek help from Sofia, a sex therapist who has never had an orgasm. Jamie and James point Sofia in the direction of Shortbus, a loft party that’s a synthesis of Gertrude Stein’s salon, Andy Warhol’s Factory, and Tiberius’ pleasure grotto. There, she meets a photographer named Severin who keeps a roof over her head — the roof of a storage facility, but still — by working as a dominatrix. It happens that she regularly flagellates Sofia’s husband, Rob. Rob doesn’t do anything else except not give Sofia orgasms. Various swinging singles, downtown superstars, and a wise former mayor round out this gallery of the fabulous and freaky.

Shortbus has a lot on its dirty mind: postmodern myths and morals, AIDS and other urban terrors, discovering deft ways to swivel from slapstick hoo-ha to heavy confessions, talking and talking about my generation….But — first, best, and worst — it is about Rent. Mitchell’s gender-bent rock musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, had a running joke about Jonathan Larson’s Kraft Single of a Broadway hit, and Shortbus often plays like a rudely witty rebuttal to it. Which is also to say that the movie curdles its own share of cheese: Many of its actors are novices, and even the professionals tend to be amateurish; the tour of urban bohemia can be strenuously hip. And Mitchell’s allegories of sex and the city are often a little too cute, as when he links the sizzle and fizzle of all these hookups with a municipal power outage. Please pardon the obvious excesses of this last tango on the L line. “New York,” as the ex-mayor says, “is where everyone comes to be forgiven.” TROY PATTERSON

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Shortbus trailer

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