Girlfriend Experience tantalising tease

Girlfriend Experience tantalising tease

Source: AssociatedPress

By: Christy Lemire

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Thursday 21 May 2009

Movie Title

Girlfriend Experience tantalising tease


Steven Soderbergh

Star Cast

Sasha Grey, Chris Santos, Peter Zizzo, Timothy J. Cox

When Steven Soderbergh strays from his glossy, star-studded extravaganzas and makes the experimental films that are smaller, weirder and seemingly truer to his heart, they can work beautifully (Solaris, Bubble) or they're self-indulgent bores (Full Frontal, Che).

Either way, you've got to admire that he keeps pushing himself, keeps daring to try and fail, and isn't just taking the safe route by making the same movie over and over again.

The Girlfriend Experience falls closer to the former category than the latter, with its intimate pastiche of moments in the life of a Manhattan call girl. Placed out of order chronologically but occurring just before the 2008 presidential election, these snippets are mesmerising and impressionistic as a whole, while individual scenes can feel a bit flat and airless. Conversations and details that might not have meant much at first take on greater significance as The Girlfriend Experience circles back to them, producing an eventual a-ha effect, even though none of it really matters anyway.

The only professional actor among the cast is porn star Sasha Grey, making her mainstream debut as a high-priced escort who goes by the name of Chelsea. Her specialty, beyond mere sex, is ensuring that her clients feel they're receiving complete companionship while they're with her. That means dressing flawlessly for every occasion, catering to every emotional need and staying on top of the topics that interest them (and since they're all wealthy and worried about losing their money, the talk usually turns to the economy).

They say they want to know the real her but Chelsea is astute enough to realise, "They want what they want you to be." And so she adapts accordingly. She's also a meticulous businesswoman, keeping a detailed journal of what she wore on a particular date (a Michael Kors dress, La Perla lingerie), where they went and what they discussed.

We also find ourselves wondering about the real Chelsea, but Grey plays her as such a chic, chameleonlike enigma, she remains beyond our grasp. It's all part of the game: enticing but frustrating, the ultimate tease.

The script from Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who previously wrote the poker drama Rounders and Soderbergh's Ocean's Thirteen, also follows the unexpected relationship between Chelsea and her long-time live-in boyfriend, a personal trainer named Chris (Chris Santos). He knows exactly how she makes her living but doesn't seem to mind?maybe because he's in a similar field, taking money from rich people to make them feel better about themselves.

At the same time, it's hard not to feel glimmers of sympathy for some of her clients, who buy into the whole girlfriend experience and don't view it as business the way she does. "It feels like you're a big part of my life," one nebbishy regular confesses. Another trembles at the sight of her perfectly lean body in a bra and panties.

Leave it to film critic Glenn Kenny to bring us back to reality: He plays a skeevy blogger who writes positive reviews about call girls in exchange for sexual favours. As "The Erotic Connoisseur," he's a wild card and a freak, but he livens things up and forces us to snap out of Soderbergh's dreamlike mood. And he serves as a reminder that, like it or not, everything is a transaction.

The Girlfriend Experience, a Magnolia Pictures release, is rated R for sexual content, nudity and language.

Rating: Three stars out of four.

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