pourquoi? parce que

The Girlfriend Experience ***

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Girlfriend ExperienceHard, cold steel opens The Girlfriend Experience – the texture of a wall in a Manhattan apartment, and analogue to the film’s quasi-documentary aesthetics. It focuses on a high-class escort named Chelsea (played by Sasha Grey, the 21 year-old AVN Award-winning adult film star) who is pressed to diversify her business model as credit starts to crunch and client belts start to tighten in contemporary New York. She is almost the antithesis of Jennifer Connelly’s part in Requiem for a Dream – a girl from a comfortable background, whose choice of career is motivated by concerns of financial independence (rather than heroin addiction), whose work is fairly tasteful (rather than painfully degrading). One presumes that both reflect aspects of reality, and that most often women in the industry are somewhere in between.

With a quick turn-around in October 2008, director Steven Soderbergh has managed to immediately capture the spirit of the times, while perhaps sacrificing narrative scope and cinematic depth. His cool, intellectual approach keeps the film from descending into lasciviousness. But there is an unnecessary fragmentation of the story, complemented by random footage of what I can only presume are Soderbergh’s indie musical buddies, jamming on the streets of NYC. Such indulgences lend a sense of imbalance to the film. In contrast to its steely style, Grey’s acting is – intentionally – wooden. This generally works well – Soderbergh presents one less ontological quandary, leaving us to observe the star of adult entertainment as the up-market escort, rather than obfuscating her character with aspirational over-acting. It is even believable, up until the major turn of the fragmentary narrative, one which is predicated on Chelsea’s predilection for “personology” and unconvincingly delivered by Grey’s miniature performance. Due credit must go to Chris Santos though, who is in his element as Chelsea’s boyfriend, a compassionate but quietly anxious character who simmers beneath his perpetually toothy, customer-facing grin.

Girlfriend Experience2

The Girlfriend Experience delves into ideas about the market economics of the sex industry, with some insight and without much titillation. In the age emerging from late-capitalism, there is little difference between the dynamics of prostitution and the machinations of high finance and entrepreneurial business. Here is the flip-side of American Psycho – the prostitute who sells an image of love to the single-minded yuppie. While Chelsea looks to consultants for advice on business development, marketing and strategic positioning, and while she shops and lives like her clients, the film makes sure not to ignore the key differences between these overlapping spheres. A merciless review that an exploitative wretch posts on a prostitute ratings site is a harsh leveler, which goes some way to illustrating the personal toll of the trade on its practitioners – though it does seem to be paying lip service rather late in the game. And it is another dimension of the business (in this case, Web 2.0 marketing) revealed by Soderbergh as the grotesque capital penetration of the body that it really constitutes. Equally, the sensitivity demanded in this foremost amongst industries of emotional labour is briefly conveyed in a touching final scene with a young Jewish client, supremely awkward and vulnerable. But it also comes a little late, and in relief to the wider depiction of self-absorbed businessmen offloading their working and sexual frustrations.

Girlfriend Experience3Casting Sasha Grey, widely recognised for her work in pornography, further complicates things. Whether or not they have come across her greater body of work, audiences will know about it from the film’s publicity. By her presence, she invites comparisons between industries: the spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds for pornographic actresses extends more widely than that of high-class escorts, and is probably weighted toward the harsher end; we have in the backs of our minds the idea that Chelsea has a more conservative sensibility and that Grey gives up a lot more of herself sexually; but that Chelsea’s work demands an emotional performance not expected of Grey – until she won this role. And for any viewers who have seen her in the adult pictures, it invites inquiry into these surprisingly analogous performances. Soderbergh clearly had this audience in mind, claiming to be fascinated by the notion of showing Grey play at being girlfriend rather than sex object – a notion which already existed on the internet amongst her fan-base, who claimed her very unusually charismatic work somehow punctured the illusion, creating an ontologically fascinating fantasy of the real girl. In turn, Sasha Grey clearly had directors like Soderbergh in mind when she went into the business, citing early ambition to become a straight actress, and approaching her work with an incredibly focused long-view. Whether or not these minds have come up with a great film, they’ve done something completely original and worthy of study.


The Girlfriend Experience, Dir. Steven Soderbergh, Writ. Levien & Koppelman, Star. Sasha Grey & Chris Santos, 2929 Productions, USA, 2009
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Written by James P. Campbell

27/06/2009 at 23:10

One Response

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  1. Hey,
    Check-out my film Girlfriend Experience.




    08/07/2009 at 03:40

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