The Girlfriend Experience
Centered around porn-star Sasha Grey as the ‘sophisticated’ high-end escort Chelsea, Soderbergh takes a look at wealthy young adults living frivolous and uncertain lives in Manhattan. Grey has been given a ton of love for her performance, but there has been a back-handed undertone of surprise in the critical responses, a sense that she is ‘great(..for a porn star)’. I think the film-makers and a few of the supporting cast members try and bolster her presence in the film and generate ideas about the escort business; at times this works, but in the end she comes across as ho-hum and bone-dry. At one point in the movie, a sleazy porn blogger writes a negative review of Chelsea’s talents, describing her as cold and clammy to the touch - and although it is set up as a low-handed blow, it isn’t hard to imagine as the truth. In fact, the film as a whole comes across as very cold - it’s focus isn’t on the complications or politics of sex/passion-as-job, but rather a surface commentary on an independent worker in the escort business. There are no sex scenes (aside from the killer last scene, where a Hasidic Jew gets off via a half naked hug) but rather a few long conversations spliced together. The topics center around the marketing of Chelsea’s services (trying to increase her ‘rate’ and make her website pop up on google) and the boundaries between practitioner and client (and how her boyfriend Chris (annoying as hell) fits into that dynamic). Soderburgh also throws in a few topical issues such as the McCain/Obama presidential election and the free-falling economy. A few scenes hit the mark, but even the best left me wanting more. For example, there is a recurring conversation between Chelsea and a middle-aged reporter having lunch during an ‘appointment’. The reporter asks a lot of personal and interesting questions, most of them regarding how emotions come into play while offering a great ‘girlfriend experience’. If Chelsea had articulated the answers to his questions, the scene would have been a real investigation into a world and mindset not often heard from - but Chelsea answers most of the questions curtly, if at all, making it clear that he is over-stepping his boundaries. I think the flaw of TGE is that Chelsea, and her gym-trainer boyfriend, are at their core pretty uninteresting people. All in all, Soderburgh crafted a great base on which to go into some really cool and untraveled spaces, but ultimately got whisky dick and only grazed the surface.