The Girlfriend Experience Review


I first heard about “The Girlfriend Experience” last summer when I read a review about it.  I was intrigued to find that the movie starred Sasha Grey, an actual porn star, playing a role that wasn’t so far removed from herself.  And even more intriguing was that it was directed by Steven Sodebergh, an acclaimed indie and mainstream director.  This obviously wasn’t “Lesbian Vampires” a la Jenna Jameson. 

I eventually saw the movie in July, and felt bored but slightly impressed with the final result.  That is until I rented it over the weekend and viewed it for a second time. 

“The Girlfriend Experience” is undoubtably a movie that has to be seen twice to be fully appreciated.  As the movie is told through flashbacks and is occasionally out-of-order in some pivotal series of events, it can be confusing and frustrating to watch if you’re not paying extremely close attention.  So trust me when I say, if you don’t get it the first time, come back to it in a week and you’ll love it the second.

The plot is pretty simple:  Chelsea/Christine (Grey) is a high-class prostitute who gives her clients the experience of having an actual girlfriend before having sex instead of just meeting and screwing.  On dates Chelsea takes her men to upscale restaurants, intelligent movies, and listens to their problems–only difference from a normal girlfriend or date is, the guy is guaranteed to get laid  and Chelsea doesn’t have to feel like such a whore in the morning because they had a real date.   And most importantly, unlike a normal hooker, Chelsea gets paid thousands of dollars for one night. Everyone wins.  Adding a layer of complexity though is that Chelsea (her call name; real name: Christine) is in a committed relationship with a man who claims to be in full support of her job. 

But problems arise when Chelsea meets a client who she instantly has a connection with and who leads her to contemplate leaving her boyfriend to start a new life with the client because he, as she tells a fellow escort over lunch, understands her and listens–something her own boyfriend hasn’t done in a while.

Under her wide, black sunglasses, black dress, and fixed smirk, Grey is the epitome of a steel-armored ice queen; bringing to mind, probably intentionally, Holly Golightly from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.  Rarely showing much emotion other than amusement (when discussing how she can barely handle a client who’s too well endowed, she backtracks for a second saying giddily, “Lucky for me though, he’s attractive“) Grey embodies Chelsea with little emotion.  One might believe it’s due to a lack of acting ability, until Chelsea tells a reporter who’s doing a story on her that it’s all a facade to protect the boundaries she’s set between herself and her clients.  Above all, Chelsea has to be in control: of her emotions, of  her sexuality, and especially of how much her clients know about her.  “Sometimes the clients think they want the real you, but at the end of the day they want you to be someone else”, she tells the same reporter.  Only once does Chelsea’s armor come crashing down, and it’s one of the most telling moments of the film.  And one of the few moments that makes us, the audience, realize she’s human and she can get hurt too.

Aside from being intelligently written and plot driven, “The Girlfriend Experience” is also beautifully shot.  Every scene is full of glamour and gorgeously lit shots, surely intentional due to Chelsea’s upper-class lifestyle. I found the cinematography to be most appealing upon first viewing–it completely strips away the now cliche ridden premise of an indie film.  There’s no Nick Drake-this-is-a-serious-movie-soundtrack or quirky characters, nor does it look intentionally gritty or handheld.  “Away We Go” this is not.  All surely thanks to the mind of Sodebergh.  The only thing that seems unnecessary is the constant references to the economy and presidential election–because of this, the film might not age well.  Although possibly years from now it could turn out to be a movie that reflects the current state of our country in many issues:  sex, politics, and money. 

The one thing that might frustrate viewers still after a second viewing is that it ends all too quickly without much resolution.  But maybe that’s the point.  Chelsea’s life is full of uncertainty–at the end of the day, she literally has no idea what will happen next other than that life will go on.  Which could be the theme of the ending:  Chelsea, desperate in her attempt to move on and not show any real emotion, goes on with business even when her life is falling apart and she’s unsure where it will lead her, making for one of the most arresting and uncomfotable finales in quite some time. 

Grade: A-



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