Monday, April 1, 2013

White Elephant: The Girlfriend Experience

This is part of the Annual White Elephant Blogothon. Huzzah

I had to do a double take when I broke the red wax seal on the carrion scented, black envelope that delivers the proclamation of doom, er- film selected for that years White Elephant when it arrived. The Girlfriend Experience? Really? A hole in a director’s oeuvre that I’d been meaning to fill (and yes but lets pretend no). A minor film surely, but one that I wasn’t even aware had a particularly bad reputation (and given that it has a 64% percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 66% on metacrtic I’m still not so sure it does). Heck it was a movie I had been downright meaning to see, albeit more in a High Fidelity, "I haven’t seen Evil Dead 2 yet" way, rather than the good old fashioned frothing demand way (And am I the only one annoyed that they are clearly describing Army Of Darkness in that scene). But then it’s the traps you don’t see coming that get you, like the Wile Coyote when he’s chasing The Roadrunner and steps through a carefully concealed hole and loses his left leg to a pungee stick.

So The Girlfriend Experience AKA Oy In This Economy? The Girlfriend Experience isn’t bad, but I can see why my unknown sender may have thought it a trap. It’s one of those films that walks the very thin line between elliptical and repetitive, following a call girl whose services include the illusion of a loving relationship. Grey is poised at the center of the film as Chelsea/Christine, who is either an enigmatic and opaque or really just that shallow, it depends on what angle you tilt your head. She fulfills her clients desires less for sex (and for anyone hopefully drawn in by the ridiculously unrepresentive poster of an opened mouthed Grey in what looks like pre-orgasmic ecstasy know that this is not that, indeed there is hardly any sex in the film) and more for the experience of being more interesting than they are. Because if a woman who looks like Sasha Grey wants to know what they think then there must be something to them.

This is an interesting basis for a film, though it might have worked better as a short, even at seventy seven minutes it feels as though we get some repetition. More problematic is Soderbergh’s decision to carve a big fat 2009 right into the center of the movies forehead. Every film is a product of its time, but virtually every scene in The Girlfriend Experience contains someone more or less looking at the camera and going “This economy AMIRITE!!!” You see its ironic because they’re all obsessed with economic transactions, and the Chelsea’s profession reduces first sex and then human relationships to simple economic transactions (in one of the film’s best lines she notes, “That if they wanted the real me they wouldn’t be paying.”) which is something we could have probably figured out without the Soderbergh breaking out the yellow highlighter. Anyway in the middle of the economic downturn Chelsea’s upper class clients can no longer afford jet setting trips, dinners out, or high class call girls. At its worst The Girlfriend Experience plays like some bizarre cinematic argument for trickle down economics.

The Girlfriend Experience isn’t bad Soderbergh by any means but it is certainly minor Soderbergh. Stylistically he’s in a low key thematically he’s unambitious. It’s clear his fascination, indeed the reason for doing the project was his star, and he gets some interesting results from her.  All in all it’s not a bad film, but considering that last time I had to do, Diary Of A Cannibal I suppose I was owed some Karma.  


You want to reduce something to an economic component, look I'm turning participation in this blogothon into a shill for my book. It's everywhere man like violence in breakfast cereals....


le0pard13 said...

Always a pleasure, Bryce.

Stacia said...

Well, I got It (1927) last year, so I don't think bad is necessarily a requirement for the 'thon nowadays.

I recently watched The Girlfriend Experience and was underwhelmed, really. "Oy In This Economy?" made me laugh a little too hard, because that is spot on.

Did you happen to watch the extras on the DVD? The look on Soderbergh's face when he tries to explain how he knew who Sasha Grey was without flat-out admitting he had seen her in porn was hilarious.

Bryce Wilson said...

@Le0: Thanks man.

@Stacia: No I watched it streaming. But I have to say I'm now kind of tempted to hunt it down.

Paul C. said...

Yeah, this seems like an odd choice for an event like this. Makes me wonder if the submitter was expecting something closer to the movie promised by the poster. Either that or he/she was a fan wanted to spread the word about it.