The second half of our Soderbergh double feature is The Girlfriend Experience. This is very much the other side of Soderbergh. This is the Soderbergh of K Street. This is a challenging Soderbergh.
But on the plus side it stars Sasha Grey.
Oh, have I got your attention now?
So it’s about a relationship between a man and a woman. The man is a physical trainer and the woman is a high end call girl. We get a glimpse of how their relationship works and what ultimately drives them apart.
The Girlfriend Experience has a lot of things going against it. It’s shot in a documentary-style where scenes and action play out naturally. As a result, it doesn’t look like a film all the time. In fact there are handheld camera shots designed to be part of the story.
Another strike against it; it’s way nonlinear. And not nonlinear as in “oh, this is a puzzle that needs to be solved.” It’s nonlinear as in “so wait, this happened before that?” It’s mildly confusing.
Also, it’s not super action packed. It’s a bunch of conversations of varying importance. It’s a very talkative movie and the conversations occur between people with established relationships, so the viewer is often left playing catch up in terms of figuring out who is talking about what.
But the film also gets some things perfect. While I’ve never been a high-end call girl or on either end of a GFE, it feels Soderbergh really captures the mundane nature of Chelsea’s dates with her clients. The men want someone to talk to and have sex with. They want the appearance of intimacy and that’s what Chelsea provides.
And Sasha Grey does a pretty good job as Chelsea/Christina. She really conveys the faux-compassion with a hint of cool distance that I imagine is what someone in her position would project to people. And when she’s called upon to be emotional, she doesn’t over do it, she gives the scene what it needs.
Because it’s set in 2008, there’s also a loose subplot about the looming financial crisis and the election of Barak Obama as President of the United States. It sets up context for some of the events in the film.
The Girlfriend Experience is another one of those films that you’ll either appreciate or hate. I don’t know if anyone could truly love it.
I will say that it’s really sad that Soderbergh has retired from directing, because he’s proven that when he’s inspired by a woman he has no qualms about building a film around her. He did it with Haywire, he did it here ad it's too bad he won't do it again.