The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

(On DVD, January 2011) Steven Soderbergh in full indie mode isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart moviegoer.  Here, he edits a plotless film with a blender and expects us to follow along as a high-priced escort navigates through a difficult week.  Her clients are distant; her live-in boyfriend gets invited to Vegas for a boy’s weekend out; a new client proves uncommonly attractive; a journalist interviews her about her job; a reviewer gives her a bad write-up… and that’s all happening over the background of the 2008 financial crisis and US presidential elections.  As a portrait of an upper-class escort offering “the girlfriend experience” of companionship, it’s not uninteresting as we see her take notes, feign interest, seek guidance in astrology, investigate other business opportunities and ultimately confuse business with pleasure.  But gee –for all the work we’re asked to do in reconstructing the film’s plot in our heads, there simply isn’t a whole lot of it in the film’s running time.  Much of The Girlfriend Experience is a mood piece, and it’s a portrait of a fairly repellent class of people always hustling, always doing what they can to prove themselves, assert control over others and race to the top of the heap.  There’s an amusing symmetry in seeing our protagonist-escort living with a personal trainer who uses much of the same language during his day job, in seeing rich clients delude themselves that they are Masters of Universe, in dealing with web consultants, accountants and reviewers just as insecure as she is.  Much has been made of adult film star Sasha Gray playing the protagonist, but there simply isn’t much to her performance than a somewhat pretty look and a striking blank lack of affect that even becomes one of the film’s most cutting lines.  As with Soderbergh’s other indie films, there’s some value and meaning in the film, but much of it seems unnecessarily diffuse, hazily camouflaged behind technique, striking low-budget visuals and a distant protagonist.  By far the most interesting thing about the DVD (film included) is the audio commentary in which Soderbergh and Gray discuss craft, the state of film (both mainstream and adult), ways in which film grammar can be defined, and Gray’s acting challenges as an outsider.  The commentary’s quite a bit more enjoyable and coherent that the main feature –in fact, I’d recommend it as its own thing over The Girlfriend Experience itself.  Elsewhere on the DVD, you’ll find a fluff pseudo-documentary giving you a short version of what’s worth remembering about the film, and an alternate cut of the movie that, frankly, didn’t seem all that alternate but should delight art-house film students –which may be the film’s best audience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *