THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)

Collaborating again with Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) writers David Levien and Brian Koppelman, Steven Soderbergh has made The Girlfriend Experience using high-definition video, as he did for Bubble (2005). Pornographic film star Sasha Grey plays Chelsea, a $2000-an-hour Manhattan call girl; the rest of the cast consists of nonprofessionals. We see Chelsea at work, mostly conversing with clients in restaurants and hotel rooms, and at home with boyfriend Chris, a fitness trainer. The backdrop, the 2008 presidential election, insinuates the nation’s economic woes and upheavals. The title refers to Chelsea’s profession—its promotional promise to potential clients of more than a bought fuck, indeed, the whole “girlfriend experience” for the duration of the “date.”
     Chelsea seems assured—until she spots a client with a new competitor of hers. Chelsea’s world is glassy and glossy—private and public both. Soderbergh has wrenched chronology; since we cannot quite puzzle this out (at least on a first viewing), we settle into the present moment, where Chelsea resides and reigns. Also, the nonsequential scenes suggest the anxiety and confusion that lurk beneath Chelsea’s polished surface. Like Chris, who is financially strained, she hustles—but elegantly. Her professional dealings revolve around money.
     Chelsea and Chris have a standing agreement: Chelsea won’t rendezvous out of town with a client; but now she does, believing she might be in love with a married man with children. Paralleling this, she objects to Chris’s trip with “connected” guys to Las Vegas. Both scramble.
     Long-shots predominate, even in interiors; in concert with the intricate complexity of the mise-en-scène and the dark patches there, these imply the pretenses, illusions and self-delusions that distance the characters from one another and themselves.
     Soderbergh’s cinematography is hard-edged, exquisite, brilliant; but I hated the film, which is relentless, nasty, self-congratulatory.

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