Published Jun 25, 2009Four film critics walk out of a movie and argue over its meaning. "It's about money," says one. "Obama," adds another. "The recession," shouts a third. "Relationships," insists the fourth. Actually, The Girlfriend Experience is about all the above, but not enough about a single thing. That's the key problem with Steven Soderbergh's experimental drama. The central character is real-life porn star Sasha Grey who plays a call girl named Chelsea, co-habiting with her boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos) who struggles to sell gym memberships. It's the eve of the 2008 U.S. election. The economy has tanked, and an Obama victory is in the air. These are nervous times for these New Yorkers who hustle to make ends meet as the financial horizon shrinks around them.
Don't expect sex or even nudity here. Her clients mostly talk to Chelsea, unloading their worries about money or their guilt over their infidelities. For the most part, Chelsea's clients are white-collar professionals who seek companionship. Chelsea herself tries to market herself better on the internet and in one scene struggles to accept one sleazy offer that may lead to white slavery in Dubai. Grey turns in a credible performance by handling Chelsea with dignity and aplomb. The Chris character however is weakly sketched and serves to uphold the vague theme of surviving in a big city during a recession.
In fact, I'm not sure what this film is about, though many individual scenes feature realistic dialogue, interesting camera angles and character play. Techincally, there's a lot to admire with The Girlfriend Experience, but overall not much to adore. I wouldn't be too harsh with this film. Even a misfire by Steve Soderbergh is more interesting than most films playing on screens right now. Soderbergh is one of the most intelligent filmmakers around, is willing to experiment with technique and storytelling. But don't come to The Girlfriend Experience expecting a fully fleshed story. (Mongrel Media)