19 October 2009 | bob the moo
Interesting but doesn't come together in a way that works as well as you would hope
The Girlfriend Experience got headlines due to its casting, sparking discussions over the nature of porn in the mainstream without anyone ever pausing to realise that this film does not represent porn in the mainstream, but rather someone who does porn also doing "proper" acting. I say this because this is not a film about sex or pornography or prostitution but rather one about commodities, trading, money and the nature of relationships where these things are involved. What this translates into in reality is a film that has lots of discussions that provide material on relationships that are some variant on personal, sexual, financial or a mix of all three. In terms of actual plot it must be stated that there is not really a start, middle, end in a traditional narrative sense but rather more of a flow of discussion and characters.
To a point this engages reasonably well because the whole time I was watching it I was working to try and relate what was being said about the business world with what was being shown in regards the escort service. Here and there I made sense of it but too often it seemed to be deliberately hard to grasp or indeed perhaps just not hold together as well as it should have done. Although it is a very short film this work did start to tire me and I'll be honest and say that it didn't really work for me. The film was so clearly "saying" something (as opposed to "doing" something) that it became frustrating to me that it didn't say it clearer and with more conviction. OK so it still mostly held my attention and I understood the obvious narrative parallels between the lives of the various characters in how the "became" something for others in return for money but this is not the same as it working and being as intelligent as it thinks it is – it isn't.
Soderbergh directs with a dimly lit but yet attractive view of things, giving the film a real good feel that would have done well to enforce the material if it had been stronger. The key PR move was of course the casting of Sasha Grey and she does do a really good turn here – although why everyone is shocked about this I'm not sure. There is a school of thought that pornography involves no acting skills at all, usually people think this until they see porn with a woman who cannot act to save her life – it is awful stuff and Grey's adult roles show she can perform there as well as she does here. She has a naturalism and sadness to her character that works well and does both convince and engage. Santos works well with her as he does the same sort of role but in a different trade, while the various clients are all solid turns that don't detract.
The Girlfriend Experience is not that great a film unfortunately. It has much of interest in the visuals, specific dialogue scenes, the parallels in the characters and the casting/performances but it just never comes together in the way one would hope. It is worth seeing because of the nature of it but even with an open mind it is likely that it will not take over you the way that you would want it to.