The Girlfriend Experience

Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk

The Girlfriend Experience

Starring: Sasha Gray

By Robert Patrick

Steven Soderbergh, in choosing the most celebrated topic of modern times to write about, selected the subject of a high-price call girl. But who to play this sultry vixen? How about porn actress Sasha Gray! 

Sasha Gray’s an artisan at things that, to say the least, involve intercourse. She has won accolades for the kind of actions that you would never hear most Church goers say – at least publicly – and has no qualms about showing off her skills in crowded forum if you questioned those abilities. The camera, we know, is her closest partner in crime. And Gray’s fans will tell you, in a way you probably wouldn’t want to hear about, how good she is at acting out scenes in films. With all of this said, her starring performance in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience should be a cakewalk for the young, ambitious star, right? Well, perhaps if you wanted her to showcase simulated sexual interactions, I would buy this undertaking. But if you wanted a solid range of emotions on film, I wouldn’t depend on Gray’s formal acting abilities to do a graceful tightrope walk. 

The problem with The Girlfriend Experience is that its an enigma of a concept. Fans of Gray don’t want to see her gallivanting around the city, with clothes, talking in monotone slurs. They don’t want an art house movie with shaky camerawork and grainy film – they want raw, unabridged sexuality. Here, with Soderbergh’s nearly reprehensible movie about a call girl’s life through her own words, there is little nudity, little action, and rarely a scene without avalanches of dialogue. This, personally, doesn’t bother me, but I’m sure Gray’s fans will be missing her more perverse, risk-taking side. For me, I’m bothered with the indulgent lens of Soderbergh; I’m pestered by his incessant need to put the camera, ever so unnecessarily, behind objects for the sake of randomness or misplaced symbolism. I am tired of him making his actors say the most tedious, uninteresting dialogue without giving us anything to care about. After I listen to the words in this film, spoken by these painfully bad actors, I’m so exhausted I feel like I’ve just climbed Mount Everest, bare handed.

During most of her excruciating screen time, Gray waltzes around, tightly wrapped like cellophane in the nicest dresses she owns. Meanwhile, Gray reads aloud, via voiceover, her day to day activities to the audience. She explains how she ate a filet of fish, with a cherry glaze vinaigrette, while she went to dinner with a high price customer. This information, mumbled with Gray’s virtually inanimate verbal abilities, is read like some sort of revealing dossier to understand her character’s sad life of empty dates and vacuous social interactions. This is fine if you enjoy a movie about lots of talking. Man, there is so much talking in this movie that Glengarry Glen Ross looks like the movie 300. 

The Girlfriend Experience, being shot in around two weeks by a ridiculously proud and delusional Soderbergh, is an exercise in the director’s more bleak, unfocused outings. I suppose, since the movie has its characters making comments about the bailout, that its conscientious to our current climate in the United States. I also suppose that watching Sasha Gray frolic around, feigning her interactions with men by eating Cocoa Puffs in their kitchen, is going to make me have an enlightening moment about the life of call girls. Frankly, the only thing I felt while watching this movie was that Soderbergh needs an editor – badly. I recall a scene where a candle floats, quite conspicuously, in the foreground of a scene for a near two minutes – talk about minimalism. 

To save you the time of seeing this movie, I will give you the Cliffs Notes version: Girl struts rhythmically and talks to men while eating food. The big surprise ending is that Sasha Gray doesn’t have onscreen sex.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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