The Girlfriend Experience Directed by: Steven Soderbergh Cast: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins Rating: R Release Date: May 22, 2009
Plot: A high-class female escort (Grey) struggles with economic obstacles and boyfriend (Santos) tension while trying to a maintain a sophisticated list of clients.
Who’s It For? Admiration for Soberbergh's pretentiousness may be exhausting to some, as about half the people who see this film will smell more "fart" than "art" in this rather artsy-fartsy Experience.
Expectations: Going into it, I didn't know too much about Soderbergh's latest. The poster itself looked pretty tres chic though. At the least, I expected it to be scored with atmospheric guitars heavy on reverb.
Actors: Sasha Grey as Chelsea: In no way is Sasha Grey the second coming of a T-800 (Arnold's model in The Terminator), but her portrayal of high-class escort Chelsea is a bit robotic. Arguably, this is the better choice, as her emotionally hollowing career choice obviously reduces the importance of her feelings and in turn much expression. Grey's performance isn't completely flat, especially in moments where she mirrors the mentality of her customers by trying to confide in someone she barely knows - in this case, a client. In these instances during the third act she becomes less sex-droid and more human, which in turn makes events lean towards the bad kind of melodrama. Score: 7
Chris Santos as Chris: The boyfriend of Chelsea offers a more relatable side to the entire story - especially in the art of hustlin'. Santos' personal trainer character brings much of the film's issues to our level (the non-escort floor, at least), as we observe his own efforts to make more money, even at the risk of losing friends and business partners. However, his character is an accomplice of the third act's lackluster relationship confrontations. Sometimes his whiny acting seeps through when we really get to know him. Score: 6
Talking: Grey narrates her business ventures with thorough details, which is more sophisticated than the threat of watching her "work." Sometimes the film's off-screen voices during conversations give off the feel of a documentary, which is complimented by legitimate dialogue from the script. Score: 7
Sights: Along with its editing, this film likes to create visual dissonance by covering talking faces whilst playing very liberally with the camera's focus. This may come as tedious (or even ridiculous) to some, especially those who are overwhelmed with Soderbergh's pretentiousness. If this were all done by a director with less of a profile, I might be less accepting of such shenanigans. Whereas some whippersnapper would feel extremely indulgent, Soderbergh just comes off as a bit of an original. Score: 8
Sounds: Especially in the parts that are cut like music videos, this has some great music. The heavy reverb guitars that I expected are indeed present, but not to an overwhelming extent. Score: 7
Best Scene: The entire film is brilliantly summed up by its awkward ending, which is ironically a great cap-off to such a sophisticated film.
Ending: Sometimes, we just want someone to hold. Soderbergh punctuates this brilliant "climactic" moment with an immediate cut to black, soon beautified by very elegant credit font.
Questions: As much as I am accepting of Soderbergh's choices, I am very curious as to what he was thinking concerning the construction of this entire movie.
Rewatchability: Yes, though my memories of the film will be able to hold me over until I am lucky enough to see it again.
The weakest feature of Soderbergh's twentieth film is its Girlfriend drama. These moments where the movie tries to have a heart and mouth don't work as well as when the film just has an eye. Soderbergh does a great job when spending much of his time observing how all businesses are being burned by the economic climate, and subsequently how everyone trying to hurdle over such financial obstacles. Thus, the dilemma of Chris finding out his girlfriend has sex with strangers for money, though unique, is not as significant as the interesting angle of which The Girlfriend Experience views modern times.
But in truth, Soderbergh is the real floozy here. The same auteur who gave us both The Limey and Ocean's Thirteen is now toying with us with his self-satisfactory Experience. He bounces off the walls with aesthetic free-reign, while ignoring our expectations by showing everything the way we don't want to see it (out of focus shots, talking faces covered). But like a "strumpet," he is basically aiming for his own pleasure - something we can enjoy if we just lay back and let him work. I mean, do what has earned him such good business.
Final Score: 7/10