Review – The Girlfriend Experience
– review by Liz Stanton
If you’ve heard anything about Steven Soderberg’s latest film, The Girlfriend Experience, it’s probably because of the film’s star, Sasha Grey.
Don’t act like you’ve never heard her name before – the 21-year-old has been in more adult films than you can shake a stick at. Oh right… you don’t watch porn, do you?
Adult film stars are rarely successful in their attempts to transition to mainstream cinema – unless you count token parts like Traci Lords‘ in Zack and Miri Make a Porno – and you could be forgiven for assuming that since Grey plays an escort, her role wasn’t much of a stretch. Make no mistake, though; aside from some rather incidental nudity, this flick bears no resemblance to Grey’s usual work.
Set in New York during last fall’s presidential campaign, The Girlfriend Experience follows five days in the life of Chelsea, a high-priced Manhattan escort. Chelsea offers her clients much more than just sex; “the girlfriend experience” can mean dinner dates, sex, or even just conversation.
The recession is more of an agitated whisper than a full-fledged reality at this point, but the clients who can afford Chelsea’s $2,000 per hour rate are clearly terrified of giving up any portion of their over the top lives. Watching these poor bastards fret about their dwindling incomes while they throw their money away on the companionship of a woman who doesn’t care about them at all offers fewer opportunities to glory in schadenfreude than you might expect, though.
Movie trailer – The Girlfriend Experience:
Chelsea herself is a bit of a blank slate – as she tells a curious journalist, men are more interested in imagining her as the woman they want her to be, rather than getting to know the person that she is. Since we see Chelsea at home, with the live-in boyfriend who is fully aware of how she makes her living, we’re supposed to be able to see both sides of the enigmatic escort.
Thing is, it often seemed that cold and disinterested was less of an act than she claimed – it’s hard to feel pity for someone so calculating. When Chelsea eventually falls for a client, you’re left wondering why – can a shared love of The Jim Rome Show* really be enough to build a relationship on?
The Girlfriend Experience‘s non-linear storyline can be confusing to anyone who can’t be counted on to pay close attention to Chelsea’s designer wardrobe (Costume Department: feel free to send that Michael Kors dress my way), but the film’s message should be easy enough for anyone to understand. I get it, Soderbergh; we’re all whores, and we’re all guilty of presenting to the world the face we think they want to see.
The sole truly repugnant character in a film full of prostitutes is played by real-life film critic Glenn Kenny, and the gruesome trick he plays on Chelsea sparked the only instance in which I actually felt for the main character. I came out of the screening with only one unanswered question: seriously, Soderbergh, do you hate critics that much?
*a sports radio talk show.-ed.
More Sasha Grey photos: