Humdrum explicit sex, patchy humor and crude melodrama converge in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, a graphic rom-com in which the bedroom dilemmas of alterna-lifestyling New Yorkers serve as reflections of both their deep-seated emotional problems and the city’s general post-9/11, Iraq war-fostered discontent. At the titular outcast-courting club (named after the derogatory designation for the school buses that transport special needs students), a sex therapist (Sook-Yin Lee) who’s never had an orgasm, a long-term couple (Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy) who’ve never been physically intimate, and a dominatrix (Lindsay Beamish) unable to have a demonstrative relationship all congregate to share in their outsider dysfunction, listening to Yo La Tengo while gay and straight orgies occur and a closeted Ed Koch stand-in wistfully ruminates on Manhattan as the last libertine enclave. The search for home – in the increasingly disconnected metropolis, in coitus, in one’s own skin – is the predominant undercurrent of Mitchell’s follow-up to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with Dawson and DeBoy’s attempt to bring a third partner (Jay Brannan) into their union, or Beamish’s desire to form a meaningful, non-S&M connection, all symptoms of a larger need for shelter and self-acceptance. After an amusingly provocative opening montage, however, what the film could really use is a consistent tone – the action lurching between frothy humorousness and Afterschool Special seriousness, with animated shots of a paper-mache-like model Manhattan contributing a wisp of fairy tale ambiance – characters drawn in more than two-dimensions, and X-rated sequences with at least something of an erotic charge. For the serious-minded, exploitation-eschewing Mitchell, a three-way oral circle jerk isn’t just a three-way oral circle jerk: it’s a liberating act of sexual expression as well as a vision of the inclusive circularity of authentic intimacy – the latter point in accordance with the overriding portrait of community. But with little steam to its carnal centerpieces, scant galvanizing fury to its anti-conservative rebelliousness, and no effective means of visualizing its characters’ sexual issues (female self-gratification = running water and a cascade of city lights? Please.), the film never amounts to more than a case of hardcore triviality.