Tuesday, June 14, 2011

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE


Steven Soderbergh, 2009
Starring: Sascha Grey, Chris Santos, Phillip Eytan

With the The Girlfriend Experience, experimental filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and porn star Sascha Grey sought to make an original film about the life of a successful call girl in New York City. She balances her boyfriend, her clients, shopping, and furthering her career. Shot in a pseudo-documentary style, she occasionally reads aloud from her daily log, "went to X restaurant, wore dress made by X designer, fucked client X number of times," and gets questioned by a reporter. Though she is essentially a prostitute, Chelsea (Grey's character) acts more like a girlfriend for hire. She accompanies clients to dinner, the movies, and stays over for breakfast. She listens to their troubles and opinions, eventually offering sex, though not always.

I'm not sure whether to recommend this film or not. It will certainly interest a smaller crowd of viewers than the films I normally review. There is little narrative structure, little conventional acting, and little in the way of drama or conflict. The trap of an experimental work like this is that it prevents a reviewer from making solid criticism. Maybe Sascha Grey is a bad actress? Maybe she is intentionally withdrawing to express the character's lack of personality or emotion? And so on.

I felt like The Girlfriend Experience had a lot of potential, but it got stuck in the trap of being too trendy to really take an honest look at the life of a hooker, even a high priced one. Drugs, disease, abuse, emotional instability, and financial irresponsibility are never touched upon as major concerns. Aside from its utter ambiguity, the film's major flaw is its interest in work, money and finance, rather than an interest in the life of a sex worker.

One of the interesting things about the film, whether intentional or not, is the complete lack of eroticism. We know Chelsea has sex with some of her clients, but we never see the physical act. We never even really see her naked. When she disrobes it is cold, clinical, and a perfunctory part of her job. We also don't see her sex life with her boyfriend or even find out what her boyfriend thinks about her chosen profession. It's curious that Soderbergh would cast Grey as the star of his film. I'm not against porn actresses moving into conventional cinema, but for one of your first break out roles to be so potentially biographical seems odd.

Though The Girlfriend Experience is beautifully shot and poses some interesting questions, it is ultimately unsuccessful. If you aren't used to meandering documentary-style films, it is also likely to bore you. You can find the DVD here, though it is also available several places to watch instantly, like Amazon or Netflix.

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