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Bob Doto [Film Festival 05.02.09] movie review comedy

Year: 2009
Directors: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Brian Koppelman & David Levien
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Bob Doto
Rating: 10 out of 10

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is the latest film by Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies, and videotape; Traffic) and is a portrait of recession-era NYC through the experiences of a high-end escort named Chelsea (played by adult film star Sasha Grey) and the capitalist infrastructure that supports her and her business. The taboo of owning one’s sexuality alongside the taboo of exposing the limits of capitalism all wrapped up into one Bacchalian-Marxist wrap. Yum!

Truth be told, seeing THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE was a last minute decision on my part so I hadn’t read the synopsis and had little to go on; something about a courtesan. I showed up at 9:30am on a Thursday (the obvious time to see films) and slipped into my usual back row. Once the film started I was immediately introduced to the on-screen mesmerization that is Sasha Grey. Now, since I hadn’t read the synopsis before going in I had no idea who Grey was outside the Tribeca Film Festival. In fact, I didn’t know who she was until I started writing this review. She’s an adult film star. Now I know where I recognize her!

Sasha Grey has done what seems to be impossible for most actors to do: make you speechless with a confusing sense of desire matched only by the firm hand holding you at arm’s length. Chelsea is a young up-and-coming NYC escort who goes about her life with her accepting weight trainer boyfriend, cataloguing her meetings with her clients old and new, deflecting all “real” intimacy behind a shell of emotional distance. She’s repeatedly confronted about her veils. When she’s being interviewed by a skilled and probing reporter, her total command of the dialogue in the things she refuses to talk about reminds us that she holds the power. Sometimes.

There is, however, a constant air of uncomfortableness. Her character is strong, but in the way youth imagines strong to be. Calm in situations that are anything but, and seeming to wear maturity like a garment, Chelsea embodies both the impossible and the possible. Perhaps you can have her, but you probably can’t handle the intensity that is her form and nature. Despite this, her clients experience her in a myriad of ways. Some are bored with her. Others spend half of their affairs on the phone with investors. Another can barely touch her (an absolutely flooring scene). All are talking about the economy, and everyone has an opinion.

Any other director would butcher Grey’s character into sellable chunks of caricaturized flesh. It would be easy to simply present us with a study of a young woman trying to be more than she’s capable of in the big city. Soderbergh’s sabotage is present Chelsea as a success. She’s not out of her league. She’s very much the top of her personal game. She just happens to have feelings. We simply don’t have access to them. And here’s where the brilliance starts to creep in. The film does an amazing job of showing us (if we’re willing to accept it) that our limited access has everything to do with our inability to translate Chelsea’s feelings. It’s not so much that she’s guarded, though she is heavily, but more that like a baby’s inability to express itself through words and our having to meet this infant where it’s at, we simply do not have the language with which to appreciate Chelsea’s internal workings. In the end you feel that Chelsea, even as a fictitious character, knows more about us than we will ever know about her.

By now you may be wondering “Hey. That’s all well and good. But why give it a ten?” I’ll tell you why you snarky bastard.

When I left this film I didn’t (couldn’t) think about it because I was too busy experiencing what it must be like to have your blood electrified, even electrocuted. I had no thoughts, but felt the need to call someone, anyone, and tell then what I had seen and experienced. The only emotion I could possibly relate to was one of giddiness. I practically ran the fifteen blocks I needed to go in order to get to work. Not because I was late, but because my legs simply needed to. My whole body just wanted to move. That’s what films fail to do 9/10ths of the time. They fail to affect my physical being in the world. Even a stunning film will remain ultimately a cerebral experience even if I felt some emotions hovering around different points in my body. With THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE I became all body. No mind. I became Walt Whitman’s “body electric.”

When I think of recommending this film to others, I find that I want to hesitate. I don’t want you to see this film and watch the story unfold. I want you to go, experience Grey’s guarded façade, and realize that you, the voyeur, despite feeling omnipresent in front of the screen have no way of knowing all that happens before you.

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Cyberhal (13 years ago) Reply

now I have to go and see this!


Bob doto (13 years ago) Reply

I'm actually really interested in what other people think of this. From this site at least.


quietearth (13 years ago) Reply

you've sold me, do the electric boogaloo!


wolfeyes (13 years ago) Reply

One way Soderbergh couldn't bore me is by pointing the camera at Sasha Grey, renown performance artist.

Thanks for the heads up, Bob. I'll definitely check this out after your review. Not trying to be the snarky bastard, but you could seamlessly tack the last three paragraphs on a hypothetical porn review, to hilarious effect.


koppelman (13 years ago) Reply

Thanks, man. Really glad it hit you so deep.


luna (13 years ago) Reply

I really loved the street musicians toward the end. Their song seemed to fit the story so well.


Mike WHite (13 years ago) Reply

Are there zombies in this or is it set after the apocalypse?


projectcyclops (13 years ago) Reply

Fantastic review, can't wait to see this. Cheers Bob!

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