The Girlfriend Experience Review
Sex, Lies and Videotape
Visually beautiful yet sickeningly distant in its presentation, The Girlfriend Experience is either a treatise on veneer thin materialism or an exercise on what independent features should not be: coolly detached with nary a reason to care about a single character in the film. Steven Soderbergh, who is a master of capturing inner turmoil (Sex, Lies, and Videotape) but can also have smirky fun (Oceans 11 & 12, not so much 13), creates a feature that is a beauty to behold.
Sadly, beneath the glamour shots of New York City and designer duds, the story line and, more importantly, the characters, fail to create even a droplet of authentic emotion nor a reason to watch the film’s events unfold for its scant hour and 17 minutes. It’s no surprise that Soderbergh’s cinematography is exquisite, but filling the captured emptiness with the emptiness of shallow characters does little for its audience, assuming that the film was made for them in mind.
Chelsea – Adult Actress
“Chelsea” (played by adult actress Sasha Grey) is a high-end call girl in Manhattan. When she’s not servicing men ranging from jewelry store owners to hedge fund advisers and charging a whopping $2,000 an hour, she lives with her hunky boyfriend and personal trainer Chris (Chris Santos). Chris knows all about his girlfriend’s career choice and appears fine with it. Until she meets a client who strikes her fancy and decides to spend a weekend with him, sending the fragile relationship into a tailspin. But that’s merely half the story. We follow our well-dressed whore in and out of a maze of difficulties in the industry like a pervert who runs a message board ranking escorts and a new popular competitor.
The Girlfriend Experience is set during the run-up to the 2008 election and showcases all the chatter of the time. Hot items like defending Israel, Obama and spending, and investing in gold. In many interactions with her clients, “Chelsea” receives advice on what to do with the money she receives from her johns after she sells her body. In turn, her boyfriend Chris is trying to score a high-paying helping to sculpt other people’s bodies which sets up the main theme of the tale: Life is merely a sequence of transactions.
The film is pure voyeurism with a fictional story made to look like a documentary. It’s strangely captivating but the viewing experience is similar to being trapped in a closet while watching a highly-trained technician build a bomb: boring with an appeal of danger but you can’t leave the closet because you may a) startle the guy with the bomb or b) miss something cool. In Soderbergh’s Girlfriend Experience, the bomb never goes off. As for Grey, who has starred in over 80 pornos, her detachment fits her role, though it’s unclear if this was just perfect casting of a non-emotive person (wouldn’t you have to be to star in over 80 porn movies?) or an actual human being cast in a non-emotive role. Whichever the case, audiences will come away feeling the same way: unemotional.