Starring: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos, Timothy Davis, Mark Jacobson
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience tells the story of Chelsea (played by porn star Sasha Grey), a high-class New York City escort who gives her clients "the girlfriend experience". Essentially this means that her clients are paying for her companionship more than anything else, for her to act like a date or girlfriend, and sex may or may not be involved at all.
The story is told in a non-linear fashion and jumps from event to event, leaving the viewer to piece together what's happening. It takes place close to the time of the presidential elections of 2008 and approaching the impending financial crisis. There are many scenes of Chelsea's clients griping to her about the worsening economy and financial woes. This comes up in other areas of the story as well - Chelsea's trying to find ways to expand her business while her boyfriend, Chris (Santos) is a personal trainer who is struggling with money and his career. Things start to get a little interesting after Chelsea clicks with a client (Davis) and decides to go away with him for a weekend.
I found The Girlfriend Experience to be an intriguing film, but I'm undecided as to whether or not it was a successful one. The aesthetics of the film are great (and impressive considering it was shot on a low budget with an inexpensive Red One camera) and I liked its sleek, yet naturalistic visual style. And while there have been mixed reviews on Sasha Grey's performance, I thought she did a good job with presenting Chelsea as someone who is somewhat shallow, yet very guarded and detached. Most of her scenes are with her clients and she projects a perfect, idealized image of herself for them. As she tells an interviewer (Jacobson), the clients are not paying for the real her. They're paying for her to listen, to talk with them, to be sympathetic with them, but not more invovled than she has to be.
My main issue with the film is that it doesn't really try to connect with the viewer beyond a surface level. It gives us a window into its characters' worlds, but doesn't take the time to explore their deeper desires and motivations. Perhaps this is Soderbergh's intent, to remain detached, but seeing as how I took this movie as a sort of character study, I'm surprised he didn't go more in depth with some of the questions that he raised. I also found Chelsea's relationship with her boyfriend problematic. Chelsea treats him with the same sort of detachment that she does with her clients and I really wanted to know how exactly he felt about what she does for a living.
Also, considering how much of the time the characters spent talking about money, not having enough of it, trying to find ways to earn more, this doesn't disguise the fact that Chelsea is a high-class escort and charges likely thousands upon thousands of dollars for her services. She also has an insanely nice, spacious Manhattan apartment with what looks to be original art on the walls. On top of that, to keep up with her high-class image and high-class clientele, Chelsea has an expensive, designer wardrobe (she chronicles what she wears to meet every client, piece by piece). Just a small gripe, but I found the disconnect between all the talk of the failing economy with Chelsea's expensive lifestyle problematic.
At any rate, it was a very interesting movie and I would recommend The Girlfriend Experience. At least if you're looking for something more serious and a bit more introspective than an episode of Secret Diary of a Call Girl. However, considering that Soderbergh is a more-than-capable director, I wish it had taken more time to flesh out its story and characters.