Steven Soderbergh is developing a set pattern on the sorts of films he wants to make. He’ll take a large check to make a film with George Clooney or Matt Damon that are successful at the box office. And then he’ll take on a project of personal significance that three people see in the theatres and then finds an audience onto DVD. Bubble and Che were both personal projects that didn’t find an audience in theatres. Add The Girlfriend Experience to that list.
The film follows the tale of Christine (Sasha Grey), a professional girlfriend. She’s an escort except with a higher purpose. She gets hired by very wealthy men to play a part. She’s a prostitute, yes, but there’s more than sex with her clientele on her pallet. Christine, known to them as Chelsea, plays the part of their girlfriend and does much more then a regular prostitute. Things like dinner, going to a movie and talking about the day and the economy in the same casual manner as sex. She even has a real life boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos), a fitness trainer who acknowledges her profession without really accepting it.
And with any Soderbergh film outside of the studio system as of late it’s not very good. He’s taken a group of rank amateurs, as Grey is the highest profile mainly due to her career in pornography, and given them what seems to be more of a personal project of fascination as opposed to any critical or commercial sensibilities. The film doesn’t seem to have a purpose to it and it’s reflected in the script.
The Girlfriend Experience isn’t strong in terms of its story or its script, as it’s a series of events as opposed to a connected story about Chris and Christine. We’re only seeing a small snippet of their life together, without any sort of greater context. We never see or hear his thoughts on her profession, nor do we see or hear her reflections on a life lived playing the part of someone’s significant other has on her. Does he think she’s playing a part with him, except exchanging shelter instead of currency? How does she justify to herself sleeping with other men for money when she is in a serious relationship? Things like these, and other questions, come up during the film in your mind but are never addressed. There’s a depth of material to be covered that isn’t in the film’s short running time (77 minutes). It’s not enough time to cover anything in depth and what it does cover is boring and borders on awful for large chunks of time.
With The Informant! establishing Soderbergh’s commercial credibility once again, he can go back to making crappy films in between studio projects. Chalk up The Girlfriend Experience as another of those as he tries to recapture the independent credibility he had following Sex, Lies and Videotape.
The film was made on a shoestring budget and for the most part it shows in the DVD transfer. It’s been cleaned up a bit since its theatrical release, but the audio is weak and erratic, as sometimes it’ll come through cleanly but when the technical limitations of the budget come up (like audio in different rooms) there’s significant difficulties.
HDnet Look at The Girlfriend Experience is a brief look at the film which originally played on the HDnet channel. Nothing of note is said.
The Girlfriend Experience is more like The Crappy Movie Experience: Part 3, recommendation to avoid.
Magnolia presents The Girlfriend Experience. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Sasha Grey, Chris Santos. Written by Brian Koppelman, David Levien. Running time: 77 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: 9.29.2009. Available at Amazon.
Tags: Steven Soderbergh