All About Business
Steven Soderbergh, who continues to bounce around his eclectic directorial spectrum, lands on his artistic indie side with The Girlfriend Experience. This film seems to be based on the notion that it would be interesting to follow around a female escort in New York during the deep recession days of 2008, right before the U.S. presidential election.
"Chelsea" (real-life porn actress Sasha Grey) is paid by very rich clients to accompany them in whatever way they please, although many of them appear just to need company in the face of the bad economy. Meanwhile, Chelsea also has a boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos), a personal trainer aggressively seeking more business with various avenues of income.
There's a level of coldness depicted here, where all of the characters are exposed as searching for their basic needs -- money, companionship (sexual or otherwise) --when times get tough, and they are determined not to give up lifestyles they may have grown accustomed to. Chelsea herself is no angel -- her line of work affords her the luxury of being mostly independent-minded and even selfish in pursuing her own personal desires; it also forces her to create distances between herself and the people she interacts with.
Soderbergh likes to put the magnifying glass on human behavior as a sort of uncontrollable, instinctive set of compulsions, all of which are heavily shaped by environment (see also: Bubble). Chelsea may believe she has control over her life, but her actions feel inevitable; it reminds me a bit of Nana in Godard's My Life to Live. Grey isn't Anna Karina, though; she does just enough to get by, and Soderbergh's visual compositions do the rest.
The Girlfriend Experience ends up as a curious snapshot of urban America during a particular pressured time; it doesn't have a generally nice view of people, but a frankness about the film's subject drives it -- when the chips are down, it's all about business.
(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated "R" for sexual content, nudity and language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com .