Published Jun 25, 2009Like 2005's Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience further reiterates Soderbergh's assertion of breaking in between big budget studio flicks to examine American alienation on the fast and loose with DV and non-professional actors. Suitably academic in nature and drawing influence from pretentious angst-ridden French filmmakers of decades past, GFE defines itself by emotional detachment and constructed barriers, which allow us to think, but never engage.
Demonstrating an affinity for something other than grinning through a bukkake, porn star Sasha Grey stars as Chelsea, a high-class call girl in New York that offers, you guessed it, the girlfriend experience, which is essentially the ability to hold a conversation and stroke the fragile male ego.
For the most part, she listens to rich men bitch about the economy — given the context of the McCain-Obama election — when not searching for ways to market herself into higher echelons and maintaining her passionless relationship with similarly empty boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos). Smartly, her career of aesthetics mirrors with his similar work as a personal trainer, fitting the status quo externally as performance of culture for fiscal gain. Internal maintenance remains a moot point.
Filmed in cool hues with a mostly stationary camera that allows us to examine the environment and scenario (as what is spoken is often incidental), the film teaches us that emotional outreach is fruitless since human relationships are as calculated and distancing as business deals. These themes of personality as performance construct in the face of economic crisis and urban depersonalization ring loud and clear, but eventual efforts to connect us with our steely, controlled heroine fall flat.
It's really the catch of the whole thing, as deliberate composition is what makes the film so effective cognitively, but this aloof approach similarly leaves us at arms reach from Chelsea's plight, stifling internal reflection. Essentially, what we have here is a film better respected than enjoyed. (Mongrel Media)