Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Girlfriend Experience - 2009

"The Girlfriend Experience" - 2009
Dir. by Steven Soderbergh - 1 hr. 17 min.

"The Girlfriend Experience" is almost more interesting as an exercise in film-making than it is as a film.  I know that's a back-handed compliment, and the resulting film holds together reasonably well.  Especially early in the film, there are a number of fantastically composed shots that help hold your attention (in particular, it's kind of a visual pattern to have one plane in focus and another in the same shot out of focus - a visual metaphor for the main character's life).  But if you're expecting something raunchy or sensual, you're probably going to be out of luck here.

Sasha Grey (a porn starlet in her day job) plays a high-class call girl (they repeatedly refer to her as "sophisticated") who is also in a year and a half long relationship with a personal trainer.  She makes a considerable amount of money in her profession, but nothing seems to be particularly of interest to her.  She fakes it well enough, but there's always an emotional wall between her and her clients (and to the viewer, as well).  That's the main thrust of the story - her being walled off (even from her boyfriend).  That point is made explicit through a series of interviews she does with a journalist.  It seems mostly that she exists in order for her clients to have someone to talk freely to.

Now, if watching a movie about an emotionally-distant character sounds like it might not be as engaging of an experience as you'd like, I'd say that's fair.  There's a reason the movie is only 77 minutes long - most of the men natter on about the economy and the then-upcoming Obama/McCain campaigns, and she mostly just listens.  And that's where knowing about how the film was made helps.  Filmed in only two weeks on a budget of $1.3 million, and featuring largely unknown actors, this would qualify as one of Steven Soderbergh's lo-fi experiments.  He's always done these sorts of films throughout his career, and I'm sure it's liberating not to have to plan out every little thing and wrangle huge stars.  But when you're going to see one of his films, you kind of need to know if you're in for an "Ocean's Eleven" experience, or more of a "Full Frontal" experience.  He's capable of making either work, but if you're expecting a giant, glossy extravaganza instead of low-budget on-the-fly film-making, it'll color your experience unfairly.  "The Girlfriend Experience" isn't in the top tier of his more indie-oriented work, but it is a great example of how this talented director can make just about anything work.

3 / 5 - NF Streaming

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