5-Word 365 #032 – The Girlfriend Experience

Yes, this post is a few minutes late. I don’t care. Actually, how many of you would have even noticed if I hadn’t mentioned it? Shit, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it.

The Girlfriend Experience

 No Clooney or Damon here.

Steven Soderbergh returns to his roots with this lo-fi, experimental film about the life of a high-class escort in New York over 5 days in 2008.

Christine, or Chelsea as she is known to her clients, provides the “girlfriend experience” – hey, could that be where the title of the movie came from? – which for those not au fait with these things means that she’s a full-service call girl: dinners, dates, talking, hugs and, yes, sex too. At $2000 an hour, it’s a pretty lucrative gig. She has a nice apartment with her boyfriend, who knows all about her job and seems to be okay with it. He works a personal trainer, and gets invited to join one of his clients on a weekend boy’s jaunt to Vegas. Should he go? Should Christine invest in gold? What does the Erotic Connoisseur have to say about it?

The movie credits David Levien and Marc Jacobsen as writers, but the style has an almost improvised feel to it. It doesn’t seem written. Combine this with Soderbergh’s unobtrusive camerawork and you could easily think you’re watching an actual documentary. One problem with this approach for me, on a technical level, was the sound quality. Sometimes you are struggling to hear what these people are saying, especially in the long shots.

Just as he has done with Gina Carano in the recent Haywire, Soderbergh started with his star and built a movie around her. And, also as with Haywire, he surrounds his untested leading lady with an array of more experienced actors. Christine is played by porn star Sasha Grey in her first mainstream role (this flicks falls between Buttman’s Stretch Class 2 and Masturbation Nation on her IMDb page), alongside Chris Santos as her boyfriend Chris. Actually, with the exception of Sasha, most of the named characters share the name of the actor in the role. This just adds to the faux-reality of the whole movie. It has to be said that on the strength of this flick alone, it’s hard to tell if Grey can act. Is Christine supposed to have this air of detachment around her, or is it just a weakness on the actor’s part? I suppose you’d have to see more of her oeuvre to be able to judge. 

She's probably the prettiest porn star I've seen in a while. Or am I just watching the wrong kind of porn...?

One noticeable thing with this movie is that nobody judges Christine for what she does, not even the film itself. She is a businesswoman, and her business just happens to be sleeping with men for money. She faces the same problems as any other small business owner: competitors; how to invest profits; bad reviews and so on. Her boyfriend Chris seems more pissed off about her fascination with personology, where someone’s birthday can have a meaningful impact on who they are, but it’s not astrology (yes it fucking is, dear). This is until she finds a new client who suggests she go away for the weekend with him – on the same weekend where Chris has been invited to Vegas by his client, all expenses paid. Don’t you just love symmetry? By going on the Vegas trip, is Chris becoming just as much of a whore as Christine?

If there is a drawback to this grand scheme of mine, it’s the turnaround time. By watching and reviewing a flick in the same day, I don’t have time to let a story stew in my head. I have to just blast out these superficial reports. Mostly that works fine. A lot of the flicks I’ll be watching are pretty superficial themselves, but Soderbergh’s story defies that. This is the kind of film that is supposed to simmer and stew in its own juices for a while.

I know what you’re all thinking now. “Yeah Ry, that’s all well and good, but does she get ‘em out?” Well, yes. You can’t really have a porn star playing a call girl in an art house film and not have her get naked a bit, but the nude scenes are shot with the same detached coolness as the rest of the feature. If all you want to see is Sasha Grey in the buff, stick with Masturbation Nation. If you want a story to make you think, a story about parallels in people’s lives, and the economy, and the effect of what we do for a living on our loved ones, then give this a shot. There is a lot happening here, if you want to look for it.


  1. David · February 2, 2012

    You should’ve just reviewed Masturbation Nation. Or was that out as you’d seen it before?

    • Ryan McNeely · February 2, 2012

      Maybe I should add it to the list, purely for comparison purposes of course. Is it any good?

  2. David · February 2, 2012

    No idea, not seen it! Although I had heard of Ms Grey before she was in this film…

    And yes, you probably are watching the wrong kind of porn!

  3. Jon Abrams · February 4, 2012

    This is a great review. I had forgotten I wrote about it too (http://bit.ly/yOPPaz) but yours made me think of the movie again, from different angles, especially in light of having so recently seen Haywire. (I also love your photo comments!)

  4. Pingback: 5-Word 365 #075 – Che | 5-Word Movie Reviews
  5. Pingback: 5-Word 365 #108 – The Informant! | 5-Word Movie Reviews

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