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The Girlfriend Experience

Film Three Stars
Steven Soderbergh directing a film in a cinéma verité style, a style of documentary film-making that combines naturalistic techniques with stylised camera work and editing to take a provocative stance towards a topic, which stars a real life porn star as the lead character, a female escort who offers her clients the real "girlfriend experience", it courts controversy and demands watching.

However some critics seem to be rather hard on the film, and others aren't so enamoured with it as the film suggests, yet when I saw it and put all the hype and critical complaint to the side, I was a lot more impressed.

TheGirlfriendExperience.jpgYou see I hadn't really heard great things about the film, and what I had heard was suggesting that it was hyped up to be a lot more than it really deserved, so I wasn't really holding out much hope for the film. That meant I was pleasantly surprised, because it is good and has a lot to offer.

Plot.pngThe film follows a high-end escort who provides the complete experience of having a girlfriend, from the simple companionship through to the romance and ultimately, the sex.

Except there's something unusual about her, because while she's a high-end escort, she also lives with her long term boyfriend, who knows what she does for a living, and he handles her own business.

Throughout the film we see her controlled world falter as her hardened exterior cracks and the portioned off part of her life creeps through into her real life, all the while her business is being threatened by the competition.

TheFilm.pngThe opening few scenes had me a little worried, they did feel slightly awkward and forced, and I'm not sure if that was intended to reflect the relationship between the escort and the client, or if it was because the characters weren't totally used to the improvisation and acting style.

Although that had me worried as I watched the opening scenes, it was something I looked back on later in the film and realised it might have been the former, but at the time you're slightly uncertain and it can bring your expectations for the film down somewhat.

From there on the film presents and pulls together multiple time lines and story lines in what should be a confusing edit, however the story comes out well and you easily settle into its style without feeling like you're getting lost through the complexities or feeling like the style is taking over from the substance. While Steven Soderbergh may have chosen a specific style for the film which could be deemed as confusing, he hasn't allowed that to take over the film rather it helps convey the meaning and messages within it.

There's an amusing moment during the film that takes a stab at critics, particularly online critics, in a very cliched and derogatory way, however in the context of the film the sly attack is rather amusing and not too overly made considering it fitted so well with the story. Still, it personally felt a little unfair, even if I did laugh at it, and I wasn't the only one as plenty other members of the press audience were laughing away at that moment.

Saying that, if the comparison of the online critic of the escort is made with the online critic in the audience, then the comparison with the escort must surely fall on the director.

I did get settled in with the story very easily and become drawn to the escort's life, not because of any titillation - and let me point out that there is very little - but because I was genuinely interested in seeing how the character developed, how she managed to separate her personal and work life, and how she coped mentally with the demands of this work.

However well handled the story is there are two aspects that aren't explored enough for me, the first is the segment where the reporter is interviewing her to understand more about her and her profession, and perhaps write an article, exactly why is never really revealed. However here is where we could get the most insight into this character, it's through the interviewer that we could get the chance to really find out what her life is like, what she thinks of herself and how she segregates the private and the job.

Yet it's never explored enough. We do come back to it a number of times and it helps move the story forward, developing the character and helping show the chinks in her armour, but there was so much more we could have gained through this character.

The other issue I had was with her own relationship, her real relationship in her life with her live in boyfriend. This could have revealed another really interesting story, a number of them in fact, of how the boyfriend deals with her job and how he feels about her being intimate with other men. There's the flip side too, of how she manages this relationship to ensure that it does remain very separate to her working life.

All this I find the crux of the main character, and yet it is only partially explored, and that's where I found the strongest weaknesses of the film.

Yet we get to see flaws in the character in other ways as she begins to find the other escorts encroaching on her customers, and the barrier between her personal and work life crashes down and her personal life falls apart.

There are some really nice reaction moments that we see from her during the build up and the moments while her life is falling apart, and these do give us a little way into the personality of the character, as we too are held at a distance.

I think it's a good place now to talk about Sasha Grey in the lead role and to talk about how well she does. Her character is very controlled and you can see that she's very unsure of people and their motivations, and some might simply say this is under-acting, perhaps it is, but it has the required effect.

I think Grey does very well and while some have called her boring or bland, I wonder if this is how she was supposed to be and too much of a glamorous and outgoing personality would have made her much larger than life and her character, and the film, would have been far too far from the reality of the characters.

If she had been much larger I feel the moments when her professional relationship begins to overpower her real life and the two merge together just wouldn't have worked. Her confidence and more outgoing personality wouldn't have allowed her to have the emotional crutch that she does which leads her to some very bad decisions. It would also mean that the ending wouldn't have worked out so well with a much bolder character.

No, I think the character was just right, and for whatever reason she turned out like that, it worked for the story and the film we saw. It gave the character an interesting journey going from the confident, intelligent and beautiful woman to the guarded, confused, jealous and scared girl that we see near the end of the film.

Overall.pngI enjoyed The Girlfriend Experience and thought it had a lot to say about the characters and the story. I do think that it could have delivered more than the film offered, particularly about the main character of the escort, but what it did do was interesting, imaginative and something new.

The multiple threads play out and help develop the character and some of the aspects of the story, but there's a lot of work that you have to do yourself, it's not all spelt out easily for you.

The lead is an attraction herself, and not just the novelty factor or titillation of her being an actual pornstar, she actually holds the part well. Her performance helps show the vulnerabilities as well as the strength of the character, and that's something that does come through the dramatic threads in the latter half of the film.

Filmstalker at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009
Buy or rent from Lovefilm
Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
The Girlfriend Experience on Wikipedia



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