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.


the coelacanth said...

love the "bone-dry" pun, intended or not.

the coelacanth said...

also - and i asked this of a customer who was on the fence about this one - if it was some unknown actress in the lead, would anyone care? there would be zero interest in the film. i don't get the appeal - boring, boring, boring, and really, do you think ss is going to tease out a (presumably very, very well-hidden) side of sg we haven't already seen? she's cute for the porn world, but in hollyWOOD, well...hon, you just don't cut it.

i'm actually more interested in seeing smash cut, if only for the hg lewis role.

Dropkick said...

As already stated, i think this film was great.
I took it more as commentary on a failing economy, the focus, mainly on an escort, only reinforces the films focus by showing us how she's effected by the free market. She is making a living off a service that society deems unnecessary. Her boyfriend, who is a personal trainer, is also working in a service that isn't essential. Although his career focuses on personal health while Greys focuses on personal pleasure.
Yet, both professions are within industries made to serve people who are able to afford to spend money on themselves.

The film takes into consideration that a failing economy affects every level of infrastructure. At first, I personally wanted to see both characters (Grey and annoying boyfriend) fail, when the film started to show us that these characters live normal every day flawed and yes, annoying lives... i rethought my initial desire.

I felt Grey's performance (and i am alone in this, for what i can tell) was subtle and honest. I forgot who i was watching and got lost in her.

By no means an easy watch and yes, the film could have taken more chances but it's what the film didn't deliver on is what got me.
But, this is how i feel about much of Soderbergh's work, i just finished Che (both parts) and for all that wasn't there that i would have loved to have seen, there still is a picture committed to film worth loving and appreciating. Same thing goes for The Limey, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Traffic etc. etc.

Worsenfunk said...

I take your points dropkick - and I respect the film for its honesty and attempt to tackle such big issues. For some reason tho, the discussions in the movie left me cold - I didnt find my self rooting for anyone or caring whether they succeeded or failed. Furthermore, they never seemed very threatened by the 'broken world' surrounding them, their problems were transitory and fixable.

Sasha Grey is getting more hype than perhaps the performance deserves - but I think the film's successes play off her honest performance. If not for her, this B flick would not have an anchor.

Captain said...

I think the jew blow job scene at the end of the film indicates exactly what kind of depth the filmmaker intended. random, vain and grotesquely essential. On that note, I admire any film that juggles timely economics and prostitution. the oldest profession after all. I liked her almost mystical emotional range, and the realm she must inhabit, somewhere above rather than below her clients; the creatures of capitalism.