Maybe Jenna Jameson truly does have an Oscar-winning performance in her somewhere.
Set in the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election, we are thrown into five days in the life of Chelsea (Sasha Grey), an ultra high-end Manhattan call girl who offers more than sex to her clients, but companionship and conversation. Aka, “the girlfriend experience.”
Steven Soderbergh, god bless him, because he’s one of the last few original voices we have left in cinema who is absolutely willing to do whatever he wants, experiment as much as he can, and constantly challenge himself to even his own furthest limits. Not only does he make many jealous by the sort of skill he has, but also shows that all you really have to do when making movies, is to constantly be changing yourself up – not just to keep your fans guessing, but you as well.
However, even the lovely greats like Steven Soderbergh can sometimes fall flat on their faces with no one else to blame, but themselves.
The Girlfriend Experience is the exact kind of film you expect Soderbergh to create just in a way to test himself more and more. It honestly seems like he just picked up an HD camera, went out onto the streets. got some cash here and there, found some little-to-unknown actors to play roles, and started shooting a movie that he made up just in his head. This may seem like an exaggeration, but I really do think that’s exactly what Soderbergh did here and it’s pretty cool since a lot of what we see here in this film is pretty interesting, from a visual stand-point. The HD camera definitely gives New York City a certain gritty but polished, textured vibe to it, and I liked how Soderbergh didn’t feel the need to just move the camera around all that much. He just kept the camera there and let the story tell itself.
But style can only go so far when, you get right down to the brass tacks and realize that there’s hardly any story to work with. Which wouldn’t have been so bad for something that runs a lean, mean hour-and-a-half, but when you’re film hardly even comes close to 77 minutes, it feels like a waste of time; which is almost, if not worse, than an over-long, two-hour slog.
The problems mostly show in these characters, but most importantly, Chelsea. There’s a non-linear approach to the narrative that Soderbergh uses in a way that I can only imagine was on purpose so that he could distract us from the other problems lying within this story. But it also hurts Chelsea and the very few other characters here because we have very little time to actually get to know any of them, but we also have to endure seeing them in only little snippets here and there; most of which, don’t make any sense whatsoever until the final five minutes when things somehow come together. The approach is not used poorly, it just doesn’t help this story when it came to making us care for these characters and it ends up hurting the one character the most, Chelsea herself.
Actually, if there was anything in this movie that I didn’t believe in the most or even care for at all was the relationship she had with her actual boyfriend in this movie.
First and foremost, it’s downright unbelievable that a dude would actually allow his girlfriend to take a job where all she does is get treated to dinner by countless rich dudes, only to have sex with them moments later and complete the night. Maybe some dudes don’t mind this, but it seems pretty ridiculous here especially considering that this seems to be the only problem this character seems to be having with his girlfriend. He had to know what she was all about before, right? And if not, why stick with her when you finally figure out who all of those checks came from in the first place? Whatever the reasons here may have been, they didn’t make much sense to me and only allowed for the scope of this flick to seem all the more silly.
Still though, in true Soderbergh fashion, the guy does treat us to an actress who, believe it or not, for being a highly-qualified actress; I would have said she’s not widely known for “acting”, but type her name into any search database, and you’re more than likely going to find that out to be false and realize that, yes, Sasha Grey has indeed acted many times before the Girlfriend Experience. But instead, much rather than doing a lot of dirty, gratuitous sex for the sole pleasure of, well, pleasuring on-lookers, she’s actually thrown into a story, where she has to make us believe in her character, her motivations, and just exactly what kind of person we’re dealing with here. Soderbergh did the same thing with MMA fighter Gina Carano in Haywire and while that movie was definitely a bit different than this one, it’s still a trick on Soderbergh’s part that had to work, right?
Well, surprisingly, it kind of did.
That’s not to say that Grey’s amazing here; there are some small glimpses that she was heavily coached on how to emote and act for the camera, that she does fine with, but when it comes down to allowing us see any sort of subtlety in her character, her acting sort of comes undone. But considering that Grey has never been called on to do this much acting before, it’s interesting to see that she can handle this script and whatever Soderbergh calls on her to do. Sure, there’s still plenty of nudity, banging, and talking seductively – all things she’s used to doing in countless other flicks – but there’s something more to latch onto here that impressed me. Sasha Grey may not be an amazing actress just yet, but there’s still plenty of time for her to grow and believe it or not, I look forward to it.
Now, if only she can keep her clothes on.
Consensus: Though he seems to be trying his hardest to make it work in any way imaginable, the Girlfriend Experience still can’t help but feel like a misfire from Steven Soderbergh, albeit a very interesting and inspired one that at least benefits a bit from Sasha Grey’s stunt-casting.
4 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: League of Dead Films
I’ve always been kind of curious about this movie, but the reviews always said it was lacking. Nice write up!
I am also curious to give this a go, mainly because it does sound so outside of the box. I am also interested in the whole ‘boyfriend who doesn’t mind his gf being a prostitute’ angle, but if you say it’s not told properly, then I might give this a miss for a while longer.
I was even less impressed than you with the Girlfriend Experience. The boyfriend angle was … unnecessary and annoying, as well as less-than-believable, which you pointed out. Grey felt out of her element and over her head. And other than Soderberg’s visual style, there was no meat, no substance. These were very intimate moments, yet they lacked an intimacy. Maybe that was sort of the point, but it doesn’t make for much of a movie.
Not sure if I’ll check this one out, but I’ll keep my eye out for Steven Soderbergh. Sounds like he could have some tricks up his sleeve.
Nice review, I never got to finish this because I got bored, maybe its time to do it.
i have to disagree with you on this one, I liked it, although didn’t love it and would have rated it higher.