MIFF Preview: The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

27 Jul

Tues 28th July (Sold Out)The Girlfriend Experience

Sunday 9th August (Selling Fast)

A weekend in Sydney had perfect timing for me as I got to catch the Australian Premiere of Steven Soderbergh‘s latest film at the Sydney Film Festival in June. Hailed by some as a return to his ‘sex, lies and videotape’ days of filmmaking – he has constructed a ‘temporal’ film that examines the politics, business and relationships of a ‘high class’ escort in pre-election New York, 2008.

The film follows ‘Chelsea’ (played by adult film star Sasha Grey) – girlfriend to personal trainer Chris by day, and girlfriend to an assortment of high paying clients by night. We are introduced to Chelsea as an escort – on a date with a regular client. More of her is revealed through journal entries, lunch dates with friends and a journalist who is interviewing her for an article.

The audience sees little of her personality – seeing her only as a seemingly detached girlfriend for hire. Initially I found Grey’s blank slate unaffected acting style slightly off-putting – the writing does not reveal much of the character, and neither does Grey. But this eventually pays off at the films climax as Chelsea’s human side is revealed – not in a dramatic sob-fest, or screaming match, but a constructed shift in the audience’s perception of her.

I was excited to know that Soderbergh had shot this film on the film industry’s super duper new toy the Red One camera, and had done so in the lead up to the 2008 US election. This gives the film a tangible temporal element. The audience laughs at a ‘vote for McCain’ comment and groans a little at a ‘Maverick’ joke. The stock market collapses around the main characters and Chris and Chelsea seem to be very business focussed people – a large part of the story rotates around Chelsea trying to grow her business, and Chris’s attempts to negotiate a pay rise.

It is a happy accident for the filmmakers that the crash happened during shooting – it draws parallels between the US economy and the high class escort – appearing indestructible and then broken from seemingly out of nowhere.

Ultimately though I read this film as a study of superficiality and construction. The camera often lingers on brands and restaurant names like sneaky product placement. The characters are money focussed and appearance based. This doesn’t look like it will work out for them, but we don’t know – the film and characters have no past nor future – their artifice is deconstructed and left for the audience to fill in the blank.

It is a topical, well constructed and good looking film and short! – at 77minutes it never feels laboured. It is enjoyable and at times a funny social commentary that delivers without overloading the message.

– Morgan Stewart

Other MIFF reviews:

Moon

10 conditions of love

North (Nord)

Anna

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