Release Date (UK) –4 December 2009
Certificate (UK) – 12A
Country – USA
Director – Steven Soderbergh
Runtime – 77 mins
Starring – Sasha Grey, Chris Santos
Steven Soderbergh is releasing two films almost simultaneously in the UK – big budget political drama The Informant starring Matt Damon is out tomorrow, whereas The Girlfriend Experience is a low budget low-spec independent film starring well known porn star Sasha Grey, released two weeks later. The ‘Girlfriend Experience’ is a term to describe call girls or prostitutes who provide a service to customers who want to feel like they are in an intimate relationship, rather than just on a date or with them simply for sex. Sasha Grey plays one such American classy call girl, Chelsea. The film is set over 4 days and depcits a string of conversations and scenes of Chelsea with clients, trying to promote her business and brand, being interviewed by a journalist but also some morally interesting scenes with her long term boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos).
The narrative is presented in a completely scrambled and unchronological order which some people may find disorientating – in fact at the screening I attended Sasha Grey explained that the film was actually filmed in complete chronological order, so it’s odd that Soderbergh has chosen to edit it like this. Although this may seem like quite a voyeuristic film, as the viewer is invited in to the world of prostitution, there is very little nudity or sex in the film and Sasha Grey conveys Chelsea’s emotions and reactions very well, even if she is slightly objectified by a beautifying male gaze, but then this is essentially what her job is in the film. This is a very stylised film, beautifully shot and naturalistically lit and the end product is an elegant film that reflects Chelsea’s own elegance (as a voiceover she records her day, highlighting the fashion brands she wears). Real life critic Glenn Kenny makes an appearance as a snide internet prostitute reviewer to add a bit of comedy to the plot, but also creates a bond for hte viewer to Chelsea as his negative review hurts her, and we see how fragile she really is.
When Soderbegh was making the film the financial crisis had just began in America so at lot of these themes have carried over – Chelsea’s clients are all very worried about the economy and their businesses and the film is an interesting study of Americans immediate reactions to the crisis and also the 2008 American election is a big topic of conversation for the characters. With these heavy political overtones, the improvised dialogue and mobile camera the film even occasionally feels almost like a documentary. With the story in the press this week of real life ‘Belle de Jour’ call girl writer Brooke Magnanti’s identity being publically revealed the film couldn’t come at a better time. Chelsea’s boyfriend Chris knows of her job, although at times jealous he seems mostly accepting and you can’t help but draw a parallel between their jobs as he is a personal trainer, helping people by working on their bodies in a different way. At only 77 minutes, this is a relaxation from Soderbergh after the 4 hour epic Che, and a humanistic study of human desires and relationships that will intrigue many, but its certainly not another mega blockbuster.