tongue-tied lightning

The Girlfriend Experience (Soderbergh, 2009)
May 9, 2009, 10:11 AM
Filed under: film


Something keeps me coming back to Steven Soderbergh films even though they disappoint me time and time again.  I watched and hated Bubble and swore off him for good.  Then he made a Casablanca-inspired WWII noir with George Clooney that I just had to see , but that wasn’t very good either.  Now he makes a small independent film starring a porn-star, and I come back to the well again, I have no one to blame but myself.

The Girlfriend Experience is better than it could’ve been.  During the first 20 minutes when the characters seemed to be in competition to see who could use the word ‘economy’ most I feared I was in store for Bubble 2: Election Boogaloo.  I was grateful when Soderbergh abandoned that thread and focused more on the character of Chelsea (played by Sasha Grey).

The idea behind the film is a bit trite:  the call girl as a metaphor for the soullessness of capitalism.  Yet there are interesting episodes involving her relationship with her boyfriend, a client Chelsea allows herself to feel real feelings for, and an online critic of hookers (played by Glenn Kenny, hopefully he hasn’t fallen quite so far after Premiere’s demise).  The timeline is fractured to the point that constructing a chronology is likely impossible.  It’s hard to say whether this works for or against the film.  It’s possible a chronological rendering would be harder to sit through, but it’s hard to deny there are some good ideas buried underneath.

Soderbergh has always been a technologically gifted filmmaker and The Girlfriend Experience won’t do much to sully that reputation.  The cinematography is gorgeous and I enjoyed the soundtrack quite a bit.  Especially the moment when Glenn Kenny’s blog critic reading his review of Chelsea in voiceover is juxtaposed by street musicians singing “everyone’s a critic.” Perhaps Soderbergh is making commentary on the critical reception of his last few films?

Again there are interesting ideas here, personal relationships as business transactions, the person creating the illusion falling victim to the illusion herself, the lengths people are willing to go to get a leg up on the competition.  The correlation between Grey’s public persona and her character will likely be dissected by critics.  Yet the incessant discussion about the economy and the 2008 election seems a bit shallow and gratuitous.  And the film itself resembles a sketch more than a painting.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Love your blog, led. Just nicely put together with thoughtful write-ups. I really liked Girlfriend Experience but agree about the Election/Economy overload. As a filmmaker, Soderbergh inspires me because he is always experimenting and isn’t so caught up in ego or greatness to fail from time to time. I thought Bubble was interesting though. Didn’t realize that was Glenn Kenny! I miss Premiere.

Comment by Viv

thanks viv! as much as soderbergh leaves me nonplussed, i do appreciate that he’s out there doing what he does. taking chances and not getting locked into one thing he does well, and letting that limit him.

Comment by justin

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