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The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc released: 9/29/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/2/2009

So, here's a question for you: How much do other directors hate Steven Soderbergh? While many filmmakers get whatever work they can and must often wait between projects, Soderbergh is out making movies left and right. He's gotten into a rhythm where he balances big-budget, star-powered movies like Ocean's Eleven and its sequels and The Informant!, which much smaller, low-budget and low-key films such as Bubble. These smaller films have an experimental aesthetic and are released in non-traditional ways, such as when Bubble debuted on DVD and played on HDNet simultaneously. Soderbergh's latest project in this vein is The Girlfriend Experience, which is certainly a change from the often bombastic movies that he makes with the likes of Clooney and Damon.

Sasha Grey stars in The Girlfriend Experience as Chelsea, a high-priced escort in New York City. Instead of providing the typical date and possibly sex, Chelsea specializes in delivering "the girlfriend experience" -- this means that she and the client essentially pretend to be a real couple on a date. She talks to the man as if they are emotionally linked and if there is sex, it has more of a romantic lean to it. Chelsea makes a good living at this job, and prides herself in maintaining her appearance and her exclusive clientele. She lives with her boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos), a personal trainer who works in a gym. However, Chris is ready to expand beyond this job and wants to start his own line of athletic apparel. Chris appears to be OK with Chelsea's profession, but when she seems to be particularly close to a client, he gets jealous. Meanwhile, Chris is fascinated by the lifestyles of a group of rich playboys. Will Chelsea be able to balance her unusual profession and her private life?

In case you weren't aware, Sasha Grey is an adult film star and when someone like that appears in a film about a prostitute, the immediate assumption is that not only is the movie going to be about sex, but that it will feature a great deal of explicit action and nudity. Soderbergh bucks this idea by having only brief nudity in the film and the focus is never on sex. Chelsea keeps a journal (blog?) and she mentions what she did with each client in her writings, but while she notes the sexual activity, she also notes what she was wearing, even stating the brand name. These passages reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho.

No, despite what you may expect, there's nothing titillating about The Girlfriend Experience. Instead, Soderbergh and screenwriters David Levien and Brian Koppelman (who worked with Soderbergh on Oceanís Thirteen) take the film in the complete opposite direction and focus on the more mundane elements of Chelseaís life. We see her having dinner with another escort. We see her hanging out with Chris. We see her talking to a journalist who is doing a story on her. Intercut with this, the movie also follows Chrisí life, as we see him trying to get his clothing line started and working with customers at his job.

Itís no secret that Soderbergh likes to experiment with his little films and heís attempted to create a quasi-documentary with The Girlfriend Experience. The story isnít told in a linear fashion and we see the results of some events before we learn what they are and vice-versa. But, instead of being an interesting look inside the life of someone who leads a very exotic life, the movie is a crushingly boring exercise in tedium. The film has a hint of story, but the bulk of the film is simply ďslice of lifeĒ stuff as we watch Chelsea go from job to job. We never learn anything about her -- not only do we not learn how she got into the business, we never get a sense of how she feels about it. We do get some scraps about what she wants to do in the future. The movie keeps us at an extreme distance and itís difficult to identify with any of the characters. Thereís also a very thinly veiled political message running through the movie where many people talk about the bad economy while Chelseaís clients are willing to spend thousands of dollars to simply take her to dinner.

However, the ultimate question regarding The Girlfriend Experience will be ďHow was Sasha Grey?Ē and the answer is, I donít know. She either did a great job or she stunk up the place. Throughout the film, she says little to no emotion and never comes to life. Is this because sheís a bad actress or is the movie trying to tell us that Chelsea is numb to the world because of her job? Due to the inscrutable nature of the film, I honestly have no idea. I know that I didnít find her or her character appealing, and that ultimately hurt the film. Fans of slightly avant-garde cinema may find something to like, but for everyone else, this movie wonít be what you were expecting.

The Girlfriend Experience screens first-timers on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no intrusive grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, but the image is a bit dark at times. The level of detail is quite good and some shots show a nice amount of depth. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, most notably with street sounds. Similarly, the exterior scenes display nicely placed surround sound effects. We donít get much in the way of subwoofer action here.

The Girlfriend Experience Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Steven Soderbegh and star Sasha Grey. The Disc contains an "Alternate Cut" of the film which is essentially the same length. "HDNet: A Look at The Girlfriend Experience" (5 minutes) contains comments from Grey and Soderbergh who discuss the story and how Grey got involved with the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long