The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
Director - Steven Soderbergh
David Levien (written by) & Brian Koppelman (written by)
Runtime - 78 min
Christine/ Chelsea - Sasha Grey
Chris - Chris Santos
From the man (Steven Soderbergh) who gave us perhaps the first truly recognized independent film Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) 20 years ago, we are introduced (or re-introduced for some) to Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, the new independent movie reportedly shot for around 1.5 million and purely done in digital.
As in that first film, this one deals with topics of sex and sexuality, but in a slightly different way. In a very brief but very well paced 78 minutes, we are given a glimpse into the life of Chelsea (Sasha Grey), a high-class and high-priced escort, as she balances her working life with her personal life, moving from one john to the next while maintaining a relationship with Chris (Chris Santos) who is also trying to balance his life as a personal trainer.
Scene after scene shows us Chelsea at dinner or undressing in a hotel (though there is almost no actual sex in the film), while wealthy men (some married, some not) discuss things with her as they would a girlfriend…you know, more intimate than a cheap hooker experience. Except, they aren’t REALLY treating her as they would a girlfriend. She is, after all, a high-priced whore who just happens to pretend to like to listen to them talk about their lives.
Ultimately the film succeeds because it is so well framed by the time-period in which it takes place. Much of the conversation in the film revolves around the economy, specifically pertaining to late 2008 and surrounded by the upcoming Presidential election. Chris wants a promotion to make more money. The wealthy johns are freaking out about their stocks and confiding in their $10,000 a night escort and looking for acknowledgment of their dire predicament. Chelsea fears the new girl in town taking over her clients, and is seeking ways to invest her money and also take herself to the next level. The entire film is obsessed with it all, and it all works.
I’m not going to say this is a magnificent achievement, as it does, in fact, have the feel of a pet project in script and acting, but overall I enjoyed the cinematography and wonderful music set at appropriate times. Sasha Grey, a real life adult actress, holds her own just fine as a stoic woman in a profession that requires a stoic look. There are some comical scenes underlying this darker subject matter, and I think the director does a good job of keeping us caring just enough about these people to want to see what happens next. That we only see this small slice of these character’s lives is something I found refreshing for this type of film, as it could have easily tried to delve deeper into their pasts and create more character depth, which, for me, would have ruined the immediacy and intimacy of the course of the film.