Movie of the Day – The Girlfriend Experience
April 7, 2012 Leave a comment
I find that a lot of people are not so forth coming about their appreciation of Steven Soderbergh’s work. He seems to have this new found polarizing effect on film goers with his recent rash of lo-fi films. Lo-fi meaning he casts leads that aren’t of the traditional Hollywood sense and strips down the films to the bare essentials of story telling to tell a straightforward narrative with a tenuous emotional connection. Sure, it doesn’t seem like something fun, but I appreciate the intimate, voyeuristic views that Soderbergh’s films give us. The Girlfriend Experience is an interesting view on the dynamics of a escort and her clients who want a particular kind of experience. One where sex isn’t necessarily the end game, rather they want a connection, even if it is paid for.
The Girlfriend Experience stars adult film actress Sasha Grey as Chelsea, a high-priced escort who offers her wealthy clientele the eponymous service. In other words, on their long, often overnight “dates,” she assumes the role of a temporary romantic partner, attending highbrow cultural events, engaging in intellectual discourse, and eating at hip and expensive restaurants, all while expressing an interest in the client’s life and work. She keeps a detailed journal about her clients. Chelsea’s live-in boyfriend, a personal trainer (Chris Santos, who previously worked as a personal trainer in the real world), struggles with trying to earn a fair share of the upscale business he brings into his gym. Chris is conflicted when a wealthy client invites him on a weekend trip to Vegas. The couple faces further problems when Chelsea finds herself sincerely attracted to one of her clients, a married screenwriter. ~ Josh Ralske, Rovi
It might seem like a stretch to have a porn star play an escort, but Grey’s innocence and sweet disposition plays into the role that she takes with her clients in the film. She is supposed to be the embodiment of what they want, a surrogate for the emotional, physical, or intellectual connection that her clients pay for. Her job is an insight into the complex nature of relationships, since Grey’s job has her performing the more intimate acts on film. The Girlfriend Experience isn’t about sex itself, so Grey is used in a more guerrilla style approach to capturing this distance that she needs to have between her business and private life. Considering she has sex on film and gets paid for it, she seems steely enough to have the ability to portray Chelsea on film in the same manner.
The film itself is a bit deeper than it is given credit for. It studies the base needs of humans in the form of a connection, be it a physical act or even an intellectual act. Chelsea acts as the girlfriend that the men want, someone pretty that they can give attention to but without having to go through the motions of attempting to get a girlfriend. The clients want to talk about their day, what is bothering, and have someone seem interested in the mundane followings of the economy or even politics. It’s weird seeing a film about an escort and her clients, with few inclinations of sex being brought up. The clients seem more interested in playing the boyfriend role, even if they are paying someone for their time. It still leads me to believe that life itself, having a loved one or not, is all about just some form of connection. It doesn’t matter if it is a physical connection but just a connection of some kind.
The Girlfriend Experience takes the lo-fi approach to filmmaking and captures the essence of human contact and connections. Intimacy isn’t about catching people in the act, but rather catching them at their most vulnerable. It doesn’t matter if the camera is watching Chelsea and her clients or Chelsea and her boyfriend, the message is the same. There is insight into the human aspect of making a connection with someone, whether it is meaningful or just touching the surface in a simplistic way. We get an unobstructed look into a world where people pay to talk to someone or just experience company, having an almost documentary feel to the proceedings. Grey is mesmerizing in her performance, showing a bit more range in the fact that she can separate the business and personal lives she has, but also feeling moments of complications when her work becomes a bit too personal. The story is just there for us to take in and never being shoved down our throats (not making a porn pun, but still funny none the less). It’s an accessible film for everyone since we are just viewing and absorbing the information presented to us. So it isn’t a time sink nor something difficult to grasp.
*images via RottenTomatoes