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EXAMINING THE MODERN-DAY COURTESAN

  

picture - The Girlfriend ExperienceFilm Review

by William Gooch

published May 22, 2009

 

The Girlfriend Experience

rated R

now playing in New York and Los Angeles

and available on-demand from HDNet Ultra

 

Many film directors have used former adult film stars to spice up their film projects. John Waters used Traci Lords in the satirical, tongue-in-cheek Cry Baby; Veronica Hart had minor roles in P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia; and 70s porn icon Vanessa Del Rio had a minor role in Soul Men.) Some, like Traci Lords, have gone on to have successful careers in mainstream films, but most return to work in the adult industry, either in front of or behind the camera. Adult film actress Sasha Grey may be that one recent exception.

 

picture - The Girlfriend ExperienceIn Stephen Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, Sasha Grey portrays Chelsea, a $2,000-an-hour Manhattan call girl who provides more than just a little slap and tickle. Intellectually curious, cultured, and well-dressed, this modern-day version of French Second Empire courtesans offers her gentlemen callers business advice, dining recommendations, and insight into politics. In short, she gives her customers the ultimate girlfriend experience with fringe benefits. Unlike the 19th century filles de joie, she supports her personal trainer boyfriend (Chris Santos) instead of being kept by a rich count or nobleman.

 

In this film, Soderbergh explores the demimonde of high-price escorts and the clients who solicit their services. Instead of providing psychological insight into these characters, Soderbergh posits a naturalistic purview into the everyday lives of clients and escort.  This light-handed approach, though pedestrian and ‘unsexy’ at times, erases “hooker with a heart of gold” and “can’t get a real girlfriend, so I have pay for it” iconography. This is all about business, and sex-when-I-want-it-how-I-want-it transactions.

 

picture - The Girlfriend ExperienceAlthough this is Sasha Grey’s first foray into mainstream films—she has made over a hundred adult films—she is a natural in this role. She is credibly charming with clients in initial meet-and-greet scenes and appropriately distant in others—especially after intercourse. Grey truly shines in scenes where she is meeting a client for a late lunch after an early afternoon of shopping. She really pulls if off as the well-heeled girlfriend who spends her afternoons shopping in Manhattan’s upscale boutiques. With just the right squint or brow furrow, Grey assures clients that even the most mundane details of their lives is of interest to her. Always in control, she rarely reveals much about her private life, which is one of the problems with this film. Although Soderbergh gives visual witness to Chelsea’s relationship with her boyfriend, the relationship is obviously an exercise in convenience. Why the boyfriend would be concerned about Chelsea’s relationship with a particular client is puzzling. He has tolerated her profession all this time, why spoil a good thing?

 

Always one to examine stones left unturned and the underbellies of society, Soderbergh gives a hit-and-miss account of an evolving profession. Wow, $2000 an hour; guess you need a good back up plan to beat those rates!

 

williamgooch @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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