Review: The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

I’ve had the experience of having a girlfriend, it didn’t involve any of this junk though!

Written By: Brian Koppelman & David Levien
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

The fact that Sasha Grey has Fuck Slaves 3 on her resume brings certain expectations to her role in The Girlfriend Experience. Steven Soderbergh immediately works to subvert those expectations but also to work within them. Casting Miss Grey as an escort, a high class prostitute, does not remove her from her familiar territory of the porn world. However, there are no sex scenes that show off Miss Grey’s other talents and there is only one small moment of nudity that happens early in the proceedings. It’s as if Mr. Soderbergh knew what most people would expect from Miss Grey, lots of nudity and sex, so he withheld the sex and gave them the nudity right away to get it out of the way. Because of this the film is able to focus more on the role Miss Grey is meant to inhabit for this film.

Playing a glib, nearly emotionless twenty something is not a stretch for Miss Grey, that much should be obvious to anyone who has ever seen her in any of her media efforts or read any interview with her. For many people Miss Grey’s performance became a reason to attack the film, she is so emotionally stunted that she appears almost lifeless. Where I differ from most people is that whether it is intentional or by accident I find Miss Grey’s performance to be something special. If she were to have attacked the role in the way a traditional actor would have I’m not sure if the point of the film would have felt as immediate. Her cool demeanor and her passivity in all that happens around her are obvious allegories for the economic events taking hold of America at the end of the aughts.

Yes, The Girlfriend Experience is about the economic crisis still facing America. No, it is not about prostitution or sex, and it is not a movie seeking in any way to pass judgment. Similar to his lead actress, Mr. Soderbergh inflicts his style upon the film but he takes a hands off approach as far as story is concerned. This is both a blessing and a curse to The Girlfriend Experience. His ability to step back from the story allows his style to flourish, his shadowy colors have never looked better. Mr. Soderbergh’s lack of pushing the story also leaves the themes of the film not fully tackled. The economic downfall that came about in the late aughts is only scratched at in The Girlfriend Experience. I know that the film could have gone deeper, it could have gone beneath the surface and better plumbed the depths of the passivity that helped to bring about the fall.

All things considered, that The Girlfriend Experience doesn’t go deep enough isn’t a major sin. The Girlfriend Experience is still a wonderful looking film, with a surprisingly adept lead performance from Sasha Grey. Again, I do not know if her timidness as Chelsea was on purpose or simply an accidental result of an actress not being up to snuff. Either way, her performance works, her Chelsea is cool, cold, and clinging to material possessions even while not accepting that she is doing so. Miss Grey’s Chelsea is the perfect embodiment of all that went wrong with the economy, with her damning passivity and her petty jealousy. I don’t know if she has much of a future as an actress, that is not for me to decide, but for one small film, Miss Grey was perfect for the part and it showed. All expectations thrown out the window, The Girlfriend Experience is another quick bang project from Steven Soderbergh that succeeds when it so easily could have failed.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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5 responses to “Review: The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

  1. Among the screenplay projects I’m working, I’m writing a film about an escort. I did think this was a pretty good film although I don’t rank it very highly with the other films that Soderbergh has done. Still, it was very interesting.

    The approach I’m working on with my script (which is currently in an outline stage) is more of a continuing theme that I pretty want to explore which is isolation. Particularly on this character that I’m writing about who is extremely detached from emotions and humanity and is only concerned about doing her job that she runs by herself. It’s still a work in progress.

  2. Interesting Steven, you’ll have to let me know how that turns out. 🙂

  3. OK. I should let you know that it’s part of a trilogy of stories relating to lonely American women in different parts of the world.

  4. Pingback: This Week In Cinema: April 07-13, 2013 | Bill's Movie Emporium

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