Sophisticated Manhattanite Chelsea (Sasha Grey, "Cum Buckets! 8," "Sasha Grey's Anatomy") is out on a date with her very wealthy boyfriend. They try a good red wine with dinner and discuss "Man on Wire," the movie they've just seen. She spends the night with him. But the next morning, the combination of an awkward goodbye and no arrangement for a next meeting tells us more about how the current economic crisis is impacting all than it does about their relationship, because Chelsea is really Christine, a $10,000 a night call girl who provides her clients with "The Girlfriend Experience."
After the second sequel to his "Ocean's Eleven" remake and the ambitious "Che" biopic, director Steven Soderbergh scales back for one of his smaller, experimental indie films with "The Girlfriend Experience," shot on HD, written by "Ocean's" scribes Brian Koppelman & David Levien and featuring the 'mainstream' film debut of porn star Sasha Grey (it also features digital stills of doll parts projected on overhead bar monitors, a reference to his last small scale indie, "Bubble"). It is an interesting observation on all kinds of hustling in a climate of financial freefall but fails to connect on any emotional level. In fact, it is more enjoyable to contemplate afterwards than it is to sit and watch it.
That's not to say that the film doesn't look good, which it certainly does, with its cool surfaces and chic locations (with one or two amusing diversions). The film also features interior and exterior character narratives, with Chelsea's diary entries sounding like something from "American Psycho" ('I wore a Michael Kors dress, La Perla lingerie...' revealing little about herself or her clients) and (real life) journalist Mark Jacobson's interview sessions delving into the more emotional aspects of the job (not that Grey digs too deeply). In addition to its slick visuals, the film features good music (a street rendition of "Everyone's a critic" a rare miscalculation), particularly a street soloist drummer Soderbergh introduces to get pulses pounding (besides adding to that hustle quotient).
Chelsea may still be raking in the dough, but she eventually wants a boutique and is trying to upgrade her 'brand' via her website and learns from its designer that there is new competition in town. We follow her on a series of 'dates' with regulars which range from an older guy who just likes to talk to a Hasidic jeweler who advises her to buy gold. She's in a relationship with trainer Chris (Chris Santos) who is a reflection of her - a guy who uses his body to earn his living but wants to sell a line of gym ware and is looking for more of a partnership at some higher end workout facilities. Chelsea loses her initial client to that upstart and Chris is taken down a peg by his current employer. When Chelsea gets a new client, Hollywood screenwriter Philip (Philip Eytan), she takes a huge gamble that doesn't pay off while Chris leaves for a Vegas weekend where he keeps company with just the type of woman he's just left behind.
Soderbergh tells his tale in a time fragmented fashion that does nothing to enhance the experience but does call attention to the changing amount of French toast on Chelsea's plate in one carved up conversational dining sequence. His leads inspire no empathy. Grey gives a vacuous performance, with just a hint of jealousy and self doubt (when she sees client #1 with Tara) and later, the despair of having gambled and lost. She and Santos have no chemistry. The film's brightest spot is also its sleaziest. Former Premiere film critic Glenn Kenny is 'The Erotic Connoisseur,' who gets Chelsea out to Jersey with the promise of an online rave (and the offer of joining a whorish sounding 'junket' to Dubai), which will help with her website 'branding,' in exchange for a freebie. When we hear his review, which turns out to be a snarky pan, we're inclined to agree, at least for the part of the experience we've shared. It is notable that while we experience every aspect of Chris's career/hustle, Soderbergh cast porn star Grey but does not include a single sex scene (there is a brief bit of non-sexual nudity).
Robin did not see this film.
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