Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience

Dir. Steven Soderbergh

Viewed: From the Balcony

[A very special 'thank you' is order to Prof. Kelikian and the Film and Visual Media Studies Program of Brandeis for this screening.]

Director Steven Soderbergh hasn't just made a film starring adult film actress Sasha Grey, he's gone and based a movie around Sasha Grey. But there's very little sex and only a brief glimpse of nudity in the film. What there's a lot of is conversations about relaionships and money and where the two shall meet. Sasha Grey dosen't play a porn star in The Girlfriend Experience, she plays a high-end call girl, the kind that offers the title experience: conversation over diner, a movie, even hanging around for a morning-after breakfast. The film likes to linger in these moments and spend the rest of the time lingering on the question, can a girl who gives the best girlfriend experience around actually have a functional relationship?

Sasha Grey does a better-than-you'd-think/not-as-great-as-you'd-hope job with her role and you have to wonder if there'd be a better performance if she weren't basically playing herself. There's a kind of disconnected cool to her throughout most of the film and in an odd way it works and jibes with the film's voyeur feel. The camera sits back at a distance in many scenes and lets the talking speak for itself, so to speak. The rest of whatever magic there may be is done in the editing room. The timeline is spliced up, leaving you spending the majority of the running time wondering where the pieces fall into place. If you were hoping that the film might give you something else besides figuring out chronology, it's slim pickins. There's a lot of rumbling about the economic crisis, and Grey works some angles to try and improve her own career by getting a better webpage. One of the best scenes in the film involves a business meeting between Grey and film critic Glenn Kenny, who plays a popular online escort critic willing to give Grey a favorable review if she does him a favor or two. The scene is mostly one long take and Kenny is wonderfully sleezy and makes the encounter a memorably uncomfortable one.

It's a funny highlight in a film that is otherwise interesting primarily for its experimental efforts that approach a skewed Dogme 95 sensibility. But like most cinematic exeriments, some of it works and some of it falls flat -- unfortunately the stuff that falls flat here comes off as indulgent and boring. At its best it's a unique day-in-the-life look at a woman trying to find meaning in a life that's filled with artifice. At its worst it's a luke warm hodgepodge clumsily trying to seem relevant and meaningful. A killer final scene has you leaving the film on a high note and you wish more scenes would do such a great job at showing us the marriage of sex and money and its imperial value in modern society. Or something like that.

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