Directed by Steven Soderbergh
As an artist, Steven Soderbergh is a very interesting man. For every “Ocean’s 11” he’ll make “The Informant!”. For every “Out of Sight”, a “Che”. He’s one of the few directors in Hollywood who doesn’t appear to be satisfied, collecting a pay cheque for a big budget film. (Though he certainly won’t shy away from doing that either.) Perhaps it’s because of this very dichotomy that Soderbergh overcompensates when making his smaller, independent films. He often enjoys going off the deep end, creating quirky and challenging work, and if often makes for a film that polarizes its audience. You either love what he’s doing, or you hate it. “The Girlfriend Experience” might be the strongest example of this kind of film yet.
To be honest, I can’t even really tell you what this film was about. I can tell you that I greatly enjoyed it, (I often fall on the side of “love” with Soderbergh’s work… except for the “Ocean’s Trilogy”, which I can barely stand) but that’s about it. To give a little summary: It’s about a call-girl named Chelsea and her boyfriend Chris. Each one of these characters has some type of storyline and works their way through the film. For Chelsea, it’s meeting clients and her interactions with these men. For Chris, it’s trying to find a new job. And often times, they’ll meet somewhere in the middle. The entire film takes place in front of the backdrop of the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election and the economic collapse of that same year. And in case that lack of actual storyline isn’t enough for you, the film jumps around through time back and forth, with no clear reasoning for doing so. It’s purely for stylistic effect (at least, it appears to be so) and it’s this very bizarre choice that’s going to make most people hate this film. But because I enjoy experimental film, this choice made me enjoy it even more. Coupling this stylistic decision with the long takes that are used (the camera moves very seldom during dialogue heavy scenes) and the inventive utilization of the sound-scape (conversations from different moments will often play out over completely different scenes) and I found myself captivated for the entire (brief) running time of the film. In fact, I found it extremely hard to peel my eyes away.
Another controversial element of the film is Soderbergh’s casting of Sasha Grey as Chelsea. For those who don’t know, Sash Grey is a fairly hardcore porn star. Unlike most of the other actresses in that genre however, Sasha appears to actually know how to act. Her character is not the deepest or most accessible of individuals (intentionally) so Sasha doesn’t have an extreme amount to work with, but she does a very admirable job with what she is given and the few instances where her character actually shows something more than emotional detachment are all the more powerful because of it.
The question that everyone will have after watching this film is probably the one question that most film directors don’t ever want their audience to ask, “Why did I watch this?” Soderbergh isn’t most film directors. He goads you the entire way and ends the film on the very moment when this question will resound strongest in your mind. Again, this is something I applaud, but I will openly admit, most people will do the exact opposite. I took away something very personal from this film, but if I were to (vastly) over-simplify what that was, I’d say that the final scene sums it all up perfectly: eventually, everybody needs a hug.