“The Girlfriend Experience”

Talk about counterprogamming.  In the middle of a summer filled with giant robots and time travelling Vulcans comes a Steven Soderbergh film about the life of a high class call girl.  This is the very definition of a "small" film.  There are no stars (unless you count the lead, Sasha Grey, who is a porn star) and there's very little in the way of production value on the screen.  I think the permits to shoot in Soho (shout out!) probably cost more than the salaries of the entire cast.

But small doesn't mean bad.  Soderbergh does an interesting thing with the editing, switching around between a number of scenes that the girl (Chelsea) is in: talking to a fellow escort, talking to a journalist, talking to her longtime boyfriend, talking to her new john that she starts to fall for.  Her performance is pretty good.  The story implies that she's got a wall up around her at all times, so she seems pretty flat most of the time.  She has a couple of acting scenes (laughing, crying, etc) which work fairly well.  But I'm not holding my breath for a cross-over acting career.

What was kind of surprising (though not in retrospect) is how unsexy the film is.  Even the scenes of sensuality have a kind of plastic coating over them.  It's obvious that Chelsea's "interest" is feigned, and that her clients (except for one memorable guy at the end) see her as a commodity, not a person.

The best scene is one in which Chelsea visits a "sex connoisseur" who offers her an excellent review on his website in exchange for some free sex.  This guy was the most wonderfully unlikeable character I've seen on film in years.  Take this line that comes during his proposal to take Chelsea on a working excursion to Dubai: "The best thing about it is that it sounds like white slavery… but it's not."

All in all, it's a pretty interesting film, and not nearly as seedy as the premise (or the casting) might indicate.

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